Guglielmo Marconi (1874–1937) is one of the most enigmatic figures in the history of communication. Inventor, entrepreneur, politician, diplomat and successful lobbyist, he more than any other individual shaped the age of electronic media. Marconi saw a world of seamless, wireless communication, and between 1896 and 1937 he was at the centre of every major innovation in communication technology. Alarmed by his power and determination to create a global monopoly on wireless communication – the Internet of his day – the world’s great powers gathered in Berlin in 1903 and set the course for what was to become an international system for radio regulation. What we know today as broadcasting is directly derived from Marconi’s technical innovations. Microsoft, Google and Facebook, to name but a few, are built on a corporate model pioneered by Marconi. Marconi was also instrumental in the set-up of the BBC and foresaw such modern media as television, the fax machine, mobile telephony and radar. Today’s phantasmagorical discourse about the emancipatory benefits of communication technology originated with Marconi, sixty years before McLuhan.
This project traces the origins and emergence of today’s networked system of global communication through the stunning life and career of Guglielmo Marconi. The research connects significant parts of Marconi’s story that have never before been looked at in a single scholarly work: his early days in Italy, the launch of his first patents and corporate empire in pre-WWI England, his groundbreaking transatlantic experiments between Canada and Europe, his role in the creation and flourishing of what would become the 20th century US media giants General Electric, RCA and NBC, and the part he played in the international conventions that shaped the modern worldwide electronic media system.
This will be the most comprehensive study ever done of Marconi, his role and influence on modern communication. It is based on previously untapped archival sources in four countries and several languages, encompassing personal papers and correspondence, unpublished manuscripts, rare corporate and regulatory records, confidential as well as public documents, transcripts of international conference proceedings, and an exhaustive critical reading of the published material on Marconi.
Supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the McGill Faculty of Arts, and Media@McGill, the research will result in the first independent critical biography of Guglielmo Marconi.