Richard R. John
Richard R. John is a historian of communications who specializes in the political economy of communications
Political economy
Political economy originally was the term for studying production, buying, and selling, and their relations with law, custom, and government, as well as with the distribution of national income and wealth, including through the budget process. Political economy originated in moral philosophy...

 in the United States. He currently teaches courses in the history of communication
History of communication
The history of communication dates back to prehistory, with significant changes in communication technologies evolving in tandem with shifts in political and economic systems, and by extension, systems of power. Communication can range from very subtle processes of exchange, to full conversations...

s at Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

's Graduate School of Journalism
Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism
The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism is one of Columbia's graduate and professional schools. It offers three degree programs: Master of Science in journalism , Master of Arts in journalism and a Ph.D. in communications...


Life and career

John was born in Lexington, Massachusetts
Lexington, Massachusetts
Lexington is a town in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 31,399 at the 2010 census. This town is famous for being the site of the first shot of the American Revolution, in the Battle of Lexington on April 19, 1775.- History :...

 in 1959. He attended Lexington High School
Lexington High School (Massachusetts)
Lexington High School is a public high school located in Lexington, Massachusetts, United States. It teaches grades 9-12. The school's mascot is the Minuteman.In 2008 it was ranked by the Boston Globe as one of the top three high schools in the state....

 and went on to Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 where between 1981 and 1989, he earned a B.A. in social studies (magna cum laude), an M.A. in history, and a Ph.D. in the history of American civilization. He wrote his dissertation under the joint direction of Alfred D. Chandler Jr. and David Herbert Donald
David Herbert Donald
- Career :Majoring in history and sociology, Donald earned his bachelor degree from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. He earned his PhD in 1946 under the eminent, leading Lincoln scholar, James G. Randall at the University of Illinois...


Academic posts

After serving as a post-doctoral teaching fellow in history, history and literature, and social studies at Harvard, John held a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at the College of William and Mary
College of William and Mary
The College of William & Mary in Virginia is a public research university located in Williamsburg, Virginia, United States...

. He joined the history faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago
University of Illinois at Chicago
The University of Illinois at Chicago, or UIC, is a state-funded public research university located in Chicago, Illinois, United States. Its campus is in the Near West Side community area, near the Chicago Loop...

 in 1991, where he taught until 2009. He is currently professor of journalism at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Between 1983 and 1987, John served as managing and consulting editor of the Business History Review. He has been a fellow at the Newberry Library
Newberry Library
The Newberry Library is a privately endowed, independent research library for the humanities and social sciences in Chicago, Illinois. Although it is private, non-circulating library, the Newberry Library is free and open to the public...

 in Chicago and the Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian Institution is an educational and research institute and associated museum complex, administered and funded by the government of the United States and by funds from its endowment, contributions, and profits from its retail operations, concessions, licensing activities, and magazines...

's Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D. C. He was the founder and coordinator of the Newberry Library Seminar on Technology, Politics, and Culture, which ran from 1998 to 2007. In 2001, he served as a visiting professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales
École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales
The École des hautes études en sciences sociales is a leading French institution for research and higher education, a Grand Établissement. Its mission is research and research training in the social sciences, including the relationship these latter maintain with the natural and life sciences...

 (EHESS) in Paris. In 2002, he was awarded the Harold F. Williamson Prize for a scholar at mid-career who has made "significant contributions to the field of business history," by the Business History Conference, an international professional society dedicated to the study of institutional history, which elected John its president for 2010-2011. Among the institutions that have sponsored his research are the College of William and Mary, the American Antiquarian Society
American Antiquarian Society
The American Antiquarian Society , located in Worcester, Massachusetts, is both a learned society and national research library of pre-twentieth century American History and culture. Its main building, known also as Antiquarian Hall, is a U.S. National Historic Landmark...

, and the National Endowment for the Humanities
National Endowment for the Humanities
The National Endowment for the Humanities is an independent federal agency of the United States established by the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965 dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities. The NEH is located at...

, which awarded him a faculty fellowship in 2008.

John's doctoral dissertation evolved into his first book, Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse, which Harvard University Press
Harvard University Press
Harvard University Press is a publishing house established on January 13, 1913, as a division of Harvard University, and focused on academic publishing. In 2005, it published 220 new titles. It is a member of the Association of American University Presses. Its current director is William P...

 published in 1995. Spreading the News emphasized the role of governmental institutions as agents of change, an insight that built on John's involvement in a graduate-student research group at Harvard that had been organized by the historical sociologist Theda Skocpol
Theda Skocpol
Theda Skocpol is an American sociologist and political scientist at Harvard University. She served from 2005 to 2007 as Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. She is influential in sociology as an advocate of the historical-institutional and comparative approaches, and well-known in...

. Spreading the News won the Allan Nevins
Allan Nevins
Allan Nevins was an American historian and journalist, renowned for his extensive work on the history of the Civil War and his biographies of such figures as President Grover Cleveland, Hamilton Fish, Henry Ford, and John D. Rockefeller.-Life:Born in Camp Point, Illinois, Nevins was educated at...

 Prize from the Society of American Historians and the Herman E. Krooss Prize from the Business History Conference. John's second book, Network Nation: Inventing American Telecommunications, was published in May 2010 by the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Network Nation contends that the rise of American telecommunications can be best understood as a product neither of technological imperatives or economic incentives, but, rather, of the influence on the business strategy of the leading network providers of the structuring presence of the state. Structure shaped strategy: Network builders reacted not only to technology and economics, but also to the political economy, and, in particular, to a distinctive mix of governmental institutions and civic ideals. Political scientist Christopher Parsons says that John "has carefully poured through original source documents and so can offer insights into the actual machinations of politicians, investors, municipal aldermen, and communications companies’ CEOs and engineers to weave a comprehensive account of the telegraph and telephone industries." Network Nation won the Ralph Gomory
Ralph E. Gomory
Ralph Edward Gomory is an American applied mathematician and executive. Gomory worked at IBM as a researcher and later as an executive. During that time, his research led to the creation of new areas of applied mathematics....

Book Prize from the Business History Conference in 2011.

Authored Books

  • 2010 – Network Nation: Inventing American Telecommunications (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010) ISBN 978-0674024298.
  • 1995 – Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1995; paperback, 1998; in print 2010) ISBN 978-0674833425. Winner of the Allan Nevins Prize from the Society of American Historians, and the Herman E. Krooss Prize from the Business History Conference.

Edited Books

  • 2006 – Ruling Passions: Political Economy in Nineteenth Century America. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006. Originally appeared as a special issue of the Journal of Policy History, 18:1 (2006); in print 2010.
  • 1986 – Managing Big Business: Essays from the Business History Review. Co-editor, with Richard S. Tedlow. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1986.

Book Series Editorships

  • "American Business, Politics, and Society." University of Pennsylvania Press (with Pamela W. Laird, University of Colorado at Denver, and Mark Rose, Florida Atlantic University). American Business, Politics, and Society Books Series
  • "How Things Worked: Institutional Dimensions of the American Past." Johns Hopkins University Press (with Robin Einhorn, University of California at Berkeley).

Book Chapters

  • "Expanding the Realm of Communications." In An Extensive Republic: Print, Culture, and Society in the New Nation, edited by Robert A. Gross and Mary Kelly, pp. 211–220. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  • "Private Enterprise, Public Good? Communications Deregulation as a National Political Issue, 1839-1851." In Beyond the Founders: New Approaches to the Political History of the Early American Republic, edited by Jeffrey L. Pasley, Andrew W. Robertson, and David Waldstreicher, pp. 328–354. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.
  • "Affairs of Office: The Executive Departments, the Election of 1828, and the Making of the Democratic Party." In The Democratic Experiment: New Directions in American Political History, edited by Meg Jacobs, William Novak, and Julian Zelizer, pp. 50–84. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Articles and Essays

  • "The Political Economy of Postal Reform in the Victorian Age." Smithsonian Contributions to History and Technology, 55 (Forthcoming, 2010): 3-12.
  • "The Postal Monopoly and Universal Service: A History." School of Public Policy, George Mason University, posted December 2008. Web:
  • "Telecommunications." Enterprise and Society, 9:3 (September 2008): 507-520. Web:
  • "Turner, Beard, Chandler: Progressive Historians." Business History Review, 82 (Summer 2008): 227-240. Web: Social Science Research Network
  • "Governmental Institutions as Agents of Change: Rethinking American Political Development in the Early Republic, 1787-1835." Studies in American Political Development, 11 (Fall 1997): 347-380. Web:
  • "Elaborations, Revisions, Dissents: Alfred D. Chandler, Jr.'s., The Visible Hand after Twenty Years." Business History Review, 71:2 (Summer 1997): 151-200. Web:

External links

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