Richard R. John

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Richard R. John (born 1959) is an American historian who specializes in the history of business, technology, communications, and the state. He currently teaches courses in the history of capitalism and the history of communications at Columbia University.

Life and career[edit]

John was born in Lexington, Massachusetts in 1959. He attended Lexington High School and went on to Harvard University 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.

Academic posts[edit]

After serving as a 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. He joined the history faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1991, where he taught until 2009. He is currently professor of history and communications 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 in Chicago and the Smithsonian Institution'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 and 2011, he served as a visiting professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (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, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, which awarded him a faculty fellowship in 2008.


According to political scientist Christopher Parsons, in John's Network Nation (2010), the historian "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."[1] Network Nation won the Ralph Gomory Book Prize from the Business History Conference in 2011 and the 2011 Best Book Prize from the American Educators in Journalism and Mass Communications (AEJMC) History Division.[2][3] See the Bibliography below.


Since assuming his post at Columbia University, John has been known for publicly challenging vogue political economic theses on the basis of the historical record, including Tim Wu's proclamations about media consolidation and disruption[4] and mainstream media stirrings about Mitt Romney and the role of plutocrats in American politics.[5]


John's publications include many essays, articles, and reviews, eight edited books, and two monographs, Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995), and Network Nation: Inventing American Telecommunications (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010).

Authored Books[edit]

  • 2010 – Network Nation: Inventing American Telecommunications (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2017) ISBN 978-0-674-02429-8.[6]
  • 1995 – Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1995; paperback, 1998; in print 2010) ISBN 978-0-674-83342-5. Winner of the Allan Nevins Prize from the Society of American Historians, and the Herman E. Krooss Prize from the Business History Conference.[7]

Edited Books[edit]

  • 2017 – Capital Gains: Business and Politics in Twentieth-Century America. (co-editor with Kim Phillips-Fein). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017
  • 2015 – Making News: The Political Economy of Journalism in Britain and America from the Glorious Revolution to the Internet. (co-editor with Jonathan Silberstein-Loeb). Oxford: Oxford University Press,
  • 2012 – The American Postal Network, 1792-1914, 4 vols. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2012.
  • 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 2017.[8]
  • 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[edit]

  • “Business, Technology, and Politics.” Johns Hopkins University Press, since 2014.
  • "American Business, Politics, and Society." University of Pennsylvania Press (with Pamela W. Laird, University of Colorado at Denver, and Mark Rose, Florida Atlantic University) from 2007-2012.
  • "How Things Worked: Institutional Dimensions of the American Past." Johns Hopkins University Press (with Robin Einhorn, University of California at Berkeley), since 2007.

Book Chapters[edit]

  • “Proprietary Interest: Merchants, Journalists, and Antimonopoly in the 1880s.” In Media Nation: The Politial History of News in Modern America, edited by Bruce J. Schulman and Julian E. Zelizer, pp. 10–35. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017.
  • “From Political Economy to Civil Society: Arthur W. Page, Corporate Philanthropy, and the Reframing of the Past in Post-New Deal America.” In Boundaries of the State in U. S. History, edited by James T. Sparrow, William J. Novak, and Stephen W. Sawyer, pp. 295–324. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.
  • “Letters, Telegrams, News.” In The Edinburgh Companion to Nineteenth-Century American Letters and Letter-Writing, ed. Celeste-Marie Bernier, Judie Newman, and Matthew Pethers, pp. 119–35. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015.
  • “Point-to- Point: Telecommunications Networks from the Optical Telegraph to the Mobile Telephone" [with Gabriele Balbi]. In Handbook of Communications Science, vol. 5: Communication and Technology, edited by Lorenzo Cantoni and James A. Danowski, pp. 35-55. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2015.
  • "American Political Development and Political History." In Oxford Handbook of American Political Development, ed. Richard Valelly, Suzanne Mettler, and Robert Lieberman, pp. 185-206. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.
  • “Markets, Morality, and the Media: The Election of 1884 and the Iconography of Progressivism.” In America at the Ballot Box: Elections and Political History, edited by Gareth Davies and Julian E. Zelizer, pp. 75–97. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015.
  • “Communications Networks in the United States from Chappe to Marconi.” In International Encyclopedia of Media Studies, general editor Angharad N. Valdivia, vol. 1, pp. 310–332. London: Blackwell, 2013.
  • “From Franklin to Facebook: The Civic Mandate for American Communications.” In To Promote the General Welfare: The Case for Big Government, edited by Steven Conn, pp. 156–72. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
  • "Expanding the Realm of Communications." In An Extensive Republic: Print, Culture, and Society in the New Nation, edited by Robert A. Gross and Mary Kelley, 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.[9]
  • "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.[10]

Articles and Essays[edit]

  • "Projecting Power Overseas: U.S. Postal Policy and International Standard-Setting at the 1863 Paris Postal Conference," Journal of Policy History, 27, no. 3 (July 2015): 416-438.
  • "Robber Barons Redux: Antimonopoly Reconsidered.” Enterprise and Society, 13 (March 2012): 1-38. [1]
  • "The Political Economy of Postal Reform in the Victorian Age." Smithsonian Contributions to History and Technology, 55: 3-12. [2]
  • "The Postal Monopoly and Universal Service: A History." School of Public Policy, George Mason University, posted December 2008. Web:[11]
  • "Telecommunications." Enterprise and Society, 9:3 (September 2008): 507-520. Web:[12]
  • "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:[13]
  • "Elaborations, Revisions, Dissents: Alfred D. Chandler, Jr.'s., The Visible Hand after Twenty Years." Business History Review, 71:2 (Summer 1997): 151-200. Web:[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Christopher Parsons. "Review: Network Nation – Inventing American Telecommunications". Technology, Thoughts, and Trinkets. Retrieved 25 April 2011. 
  2. ^ "Ralph Gomory Prize Winners". Press Release, Business History Conference Gomory Book Prize. Retrieved 16 April 2011. 
  3. ^ "Best Book Prize, History Division" (PDF). AEJMC The Newsletter of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. Retrieved 1 April 2014. 
  4. ^ "C-SPAN Video Library: Tim Wu and Richard John". Retrieved 30 November 2012. 
  5. ^ "When a Plutocratic Dinner Doomed a Presidential Campaign". 18 September 2012. Retrieved 30 November 2012. 
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Journal of Policy History, Volume 18, 2006 - Table of Contents". Retrieved 2011-01-30. 
  9. ^ "Beyond The Founders". Retrieved 2011-01-30. 
  10. ^ "Jacobs, M., Novak, W.J., Zelizer, J.E., eds.: The Democratic Experiment: New Directions in American Political History". 2011-01-21. Retrieved 2011-01-30. 
  11. ^ "Postal Regulatory Commission: USO Appendices and Workpapers". Retrieved 2011-01-30. 
  12. ^ Richard R. John (2008-06-26). "Telecommunications — ENTERPRISE SOC". Retrieved 2011-01-30. 
  13. ^ Richard R. Johna1 (2008-12-16). "Cambridge Journals Online - Abstract". doi:10.1017/S0898588X00001693. Retrieved 2011-01-30. 
  14. ^ "Richard John BHR Essay for H-Business Forum". Retrieved 2011-01-30. 

External links[edit]