We are a team of historians at Freie Universität Berlin working to understand global publics in the twentieth century – their reach, their power and their limits. How were global publics constituted, imagined, and used for different purposes? How were geographically or socially wide-ranging spaces of communication opened up, controlled or subverted? Who was part of global publics and who was excluded?
Investigating the period from the 1870s to the 1970s, we cover a wide array of topics and regions in our research. In order to explore global publics in various configurations, we examine worldwide literacy campaigns and international debates about access to information, cultural and religious internationalism, non-violent mass protests, and transnational women’s movements. Geographically, our projects take us to the Middle East, India, Korea, Vietnam, Chile, the GDR and the USA.
By highlighting international events and organisations as arenas of global publics, the research group contributes to the vibrant and growing field of histories of internationalism. In our research, we probe the issue of inclusion and exclusion in such international settings, striving to introduce new actors and spaces that go beyond Western elites.
Thinking about publics and who is part of of them has also led us to challenge existing histories of global communication. So far, such histories have often centred on media infrastructures and technologies. Our work shifts the attention from the mechanics of communication to the people that constitute it — to audiences, interlocutors and spaces of communication.
Aside from opening new debates about histories of communication and internationalism, our research group is dedicated to experimenting with new methodologies and formats. We regularly hold internal meetings as well as monthly Close Reading Workshops, which invite researchers from around the world to share and discuss their most recent writings. In the past we have brought together scholarship on Algerian informants and scandal, Radio Berlin in India, and Hollywood films in colonial Korea.
Beyond the walls of academia, we also think critically about how to share historical research with wider audiences. In the past, we have held public events with non-academic professionals, such as journalists, museum curators, and online content creators, who deal with the politics of global communication. Through these efforts, the Reaching the People team not only examine global publics in the past but also seek to understand our present state of expansive yet at the same time increasingly fragmented publics.