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Research The Groningen Research Institute for the Study of Culture (ICOG) Research Research centres Centre for International Relations Research (CIRR) Chair Group on History and Theory of International Relations

CIRR-HTIR colloquium - JORDAN BRANCH (Claremont McKenna College): "Information Technology, State-Building, and Empire in the Nineteenth Century"

When:Th 06-05-2021 15:00 - 17:00

Research colloquium of the chair group History and Theory of International Relations.

Jordan Branch (Claremont McKenna College)
Information Technology, State-Building, and Empire in the Nineteenth Century


This talk is based on Chapter 2 of the book project Virtual Territories: War and the State in a Digital Age. In this book project, I examine how the digital technologies of warfare are reshaping the institutions and practices of the sovereign state. In particular, I focus on processes ofrepresentation, in visual, linguistic, and other forms. Technological systems are integral to representations and their political implications, as both media and subjects of representation. The political and institutional effects of technological change are shaped in significant and underexamined ways by these representational processes.

This chapter provides historical context for the contemporary cases studied in the rest of the book, examining how information technologies and their representations have shaped political transformations before the contemporary era—focusing in particular on state-building and imperial expansion in the nineteenth century. How were new information technologies represented? How did new technologies create or shape other, politically consequential representations? How did those two sides of technological representation interact in state-building and imperialism? These questions are addressed through case studies of three nineteenth-century technological fields: statistics, mapping, and telegraphy. Focusing on representational processes provides a useful addition to the traditional interpretations of technologies as either instrumental tools or deterministic constraints.