The standard practices professional historians use to produce scholarly narratives have often run counter to the historical habits and uses of communication scholars. Professional history established itself as a discipline by separating itself from the many other ways intellectuals represented the human past. History, unlike philosophy or sociology or anthropology or economics, would construct idiographic accounts of the past, in which concrete human actors consciously made history, using philological analysis of archival documents. These accounts would diﬀer from what Robert Nisbet called “natural histories,” the large-scale accounts of law-like tendencies found in Rousseau, Voltaire, Comte, Hegel, Marx, and Weber.1 Not that professional historians didn’t hope for grand narrative. Rather, the discipline proclaimed the modernist faith that all their speciﬁc narratives would assemble themselves brick by brick into a great cathedral of knowledge. Historians have long since lost that faith.2 But the practices of professional history have endured. Individual historians still craft narrative bricks out of archival sources, although they no longer expect them to make sense of each other, to yield up grand narrative. Instead, each individual work tries to make sense in itself by a bottomless contextualization; Hayden White sees historical work as dominated by the trope of irony.3 Grand narratives are suggested, tentatively oﬀered, argued about, but ultimately deferred, and professional historians have come to accept the fact that even their speciﬁc narratives will have a limited shelf-life. Communication scholars, on the other hand, still want grand narrative in
their histories. Innis and McLuhan, for instance, who represent a recurring persuasion in communication history, stand in a direct line of descent from Enlightenment “natural historians” like Rousseau and Voltaire;4 Marxism is another recurring inspiration. To professional historians, the grand narratives of communication history look pre-professional, lost in a kind of religious fog. Even the more concrete histories of journalism and freedom of the press seem “spiritual” because they appeal to almost Hegelian notions of progress – toward freedom, or toward professional autonomy.