Historical inquiry is a decidedly modern and tragically human enterprise. The idea of the past as a vast repository of evidence to be discovered, reconstructed, and cumulatively archived is only several centuries old, and its impetus in the dream of perfect knowledge belies the existential anxiety of modernity. The damned project of historical representation is well illustrated by Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentine fabulist who understood the paradoxes of memory and perception perhaps better than anyone. In one of his many brilliant ﬁctive fragments he recounts the work of ancient cartographers who, seeking to produce a perfectly accurate map of their empire, construct a map that corresponds to the exact dimensions of the empire itself. The absurdity of this undertaking exposes the limits of human comprehension. The whole truth – lived reality in its material, temporal, and experiential entirety – corresponds to the full dimensions of reality itself. Mere mortals must content themselves with something far less, or succumb to the cartographers’ folly. These three essays provide the groundwork for thinking about the limits and
possibilities of communication history. Each regards the history of communication as one of many possible histories, and each demonstrates how the communication histories we have are shaped by the interests and very historicity of their authors. Together Peters, Starr and Curran draw pointed attention to the biases of communication history. Historical inquiry is by necessity selective, reductive, incomplete, partial – in a word, biased. The concept of communication bias derives from Harold Innis, the Canadian economic historian whose media-centric interpretation of world civilization is now classic. Yet “bias” has an unfortunate pejorative ring; it bears an association with error, and in particular error borne of human fallibility in the context of dispassionate scientiﬁc inquiry. Bias, in this light, refers to the investigator’s failure to probe the object of study with proper neutrality; it is a misinterpretation, a false-reading as a result of mishandled evidence or instrumentation. But as Peters, Starr and Curran suggest, bias is not only inevitable in all domains of human inquiry (including the scientiﬁc), it may also be productive. To note that history – and communication history speciﬁcally – is biased is not to disparage the signiﬁcance of the past, but to acknowledge its dynamism.