Carlos Barciela Lopez, Antonio di Vittorio, Giulio Fenicia and Nicola Ostuni (eds), Vie e mezzi di comunicazione in Italia e Spagna in eta contemporanea (Networks and Means of Communication in Contemporary Italy and Spain).
This edited book is the seventh published on behalf of the Italy-Spain Committee on Economic History (Comitato Italia-Spagna per la Storia economica). Since the end of the 1990s, this committee has met once every two years. Following meetings on maritime, food, business and tourism history, its 2011 seminar covered transportation and communications (mainly telecommunications) history.
Even if Italy and Spain have very different historical patterns, these two countries have comparable issues in terms of communications. This emerges in various chapters, even if the book does not recollect and discuss them. At least six similarities can be identified.
First, there are the difficulties in managing communication networks by public and private actors. Andrea Giuntini puts into question the capability of Italian legislators, companies and even historians to offer a unique and comprehensive vision on Italian telecoms and transportation systems; there is an endemic inability to programme and develop them. One example is given by Ezio Ritrovato in his chapter on South Italian railways between 1861 and the First World War. The Spanish case is not different: in their chapters, Alfonso Herranz Loncan recalls the higher costs of Spanish infrastructures compared to other European countries, and Miguel Munoz Rubio examines the scarce resources assigned by the government.
Second, in communication sectors, a mix of innovation and backwardness has characterized both Italy or Spain. Domingo Cuellar shows the backwardness of the Spanish railway system compared to other European systems and, under many points of view, this reflection could be extended to the Italian case. The maritime systems of the two countries, on the other hand, have been historically at the forefront. Between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Spanish and Italian navigation systems were relevant worldwide: the first was one of the most important in the world according to Jesus Maria Valdaliso, and the Italian was the fifth in Europe according to Maria Stella Rollandi.
A third commonality concerns the historical relevance of concentrations: the creation of big and oligopolistic (and sometimes monopolistic) companies affected Italian and Spanish railway systems, as well as navigation companies and telecommunications. A fourth and interesting element is the relevance of path dependency. Roads and transportation systems in contemporary Spain and Italy were (and sometimes still are) based and rebuilt on very old projects: Pietro Cafaro, Joaquin Melgarejo Moreno and Maria Inmaculada Lopez state that Italian and Spanish viabilities in the nineteenth and twentieth century have their roots in the Roman Empire systems and networks. A fifth common point is the dependency on 'foreign' equipment: exemplar case studies in both countries were tram technologies depending mainly on Germany and Belgium.
A sixth and crucial element is what is termed 'inter-viability'. The concept of intermediality and media systems is that a single medium is always interrelated with all others. Cars, trains and planes, for example, cannot be understood separately, but they are part of a common system of mobility and, at the same time, transportation and telecommunication depend on each other. This book is full of inter-viability examples. In Martinez and Miras' chapter about the evolution of the Spanish urban transportation system, the authors identify a complex and unique transportation system made of animals, trams, electric vehicles, subways and cars. Technologies of transportation exist together, but they also compete: road and train systems (Domingo Cuellar's contribution), telegraphy and telephony (Angel Calvo) as well as telegraphy and postal services (Simone Fari).
This book is relevant and should be read by scholars interested in the field for many reasons, especially because it combines different approaches (and methodologies) around the common discipline of economic history: political economy, business history, history of science and technology, users studies. Another strength is the comparative approach: it is extremely useful to understand common problems and possibilities in different countries such Italy and Spain.
The main focus is on transportation systems, but telecommunications are also considered. Even if not everything can be included, as mentioned by Giulio Fenicia in his introductory chapter, airplane systems should have had more space (they are just briefly considered in Carles Manera and Joana Maria Petrus' chapter). Landline and mobile telephony might have been considered more.
The main weaknesses of the book have nothing to do with missing chapters. More importantly, as already mentioned, the essays are quite disconnected. A stronger editorial integration would have been useful. A conclusion linking the essays and stressing their (many) commonalities would have been a good addition. Furthermore, a couple of essays seem not to fit in the narrative of the book: the one of Santiago M. Lopez y Mar Cebrian on TV broadcasters in Spain and, especially, Giuseppe Di Taranto on globalization and information and communication technologies. Stylistically, the idea of a bilingual publication is a good one. Less positive is thefactthatsomeessayshavereferences and others do not.
Universita della Svizzera italiana
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||The Journal of Transport History|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2014|
|Previous Article:||Connect and divide: on the history of the Kiel Canal.|
|Next Article:||Dorian Gerhold, Bristol's Stage Coaches.|