Dr Jean-Michel Johnston

I work on the history of communication in nineteenth-century Europe, with a particular focus on the development of the electric telegraph and its impact upon concepts and experiences of time and space. My doctoral thesis investigated the evolution of the technology in Germany, from its origins to its widespread diffusion in the early years of the Kaiserreich. I am currently a Postdoctoral Research Assistant on the ERC-funded project ‘Diseases of Modern Life’, coordinated by Prof. Sally Shuttleworth, and will be pursuing this research, increasingly drawing connections to developments which took place in France and Italy. In particular, I am interested in understanding how the speed of telegraphic communication altered the pace of everyday life during the period, as it interfered with the rhythms of public and private correspondence, of business, and even of politics.

Telegraph networks are known for having revolutionised long-distance communication across the globe, but they also had a profoundly transformative impact upon the towns, regions and states from which individuals sent and received their telegrams. My research therefore also explores the connections which telegraphy established between developments taking place at a local, regional, national and eventually global level during the period. It investigates the role which the technology played as a support structure for the wide-reaching processes and phenomena associated with the nineteenth century, from industrialisation, to ‘modernisation’, and market capitalism.

I am also interested in the processes through which technologies are developed, the cultures of innovation in which they emerge, the communities of scientists, engineers, and often amateurs who contribute to their improvement, and the businesses which grow up around them.




  • The time and the place to network: Werner siemens during the era of Prussian Industrialization, 1835-1846

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