Professor David Hochfelder Publishes Book on the History of the Telegraph

Professor David Hochfelder, Department of History, has published a new book titled The Telegraph in America, 1832–1920. In it, he examines the correlation between technological innovation and social change and shows how this transformative relationship helps us to understand and perhaps define modernity.

Professor Hochfelder, who is an electrical engineer in addition to being an historian, offers readers a comprehensive history of this groundbreaking technology, which employs breaks in an electrical current to send code along miles of wire.

Telegraphy in the nineteenth century approximated the internet in our own day. The telegraph revolutionized the spread of information—speeding personal messages, news of public events, and details of stock fluctuations. During the Civil War, telegraphed intelligence and high-level directives gave the Union war effort a critical advantage. Afterward, the telegraph helped build and break fortunes and, along with the railroad, altered the way Americans thought about time and space. Hochfelder thus supplies us with an introduction to the early stirrings of the information age.

Professor Hochfelder is fascinated by the intertwined histories of technology, the media, and capitalism in modern America. In addition, he seeks to connect his work to the world of public history and community engagement.

Having finished a history of the telegraph industry, he is currently pursuing two new research projects. The first, with the working title of Thrift in America: From Franklin to the Great Recession, explores how the social, cultural, and economic histories of thrift have shaped the unique development of American capitalism. He hopes that this history will be of service to today’s policymakers and anti-poverty activists. He is also co-authoring a book on the radio propaganda war waged by the Axis and Allies during World War 2.  This research has brought us into contact with the families of radio hobbyists and shortwave listeners who monitored broadcasts to inform POW families of news of their loved ones.

Professor Hochfelder is presently Associate Director of the Public History program and will take over as Director in the Fall of 2013. This thirty-year-old program trains History graduate students to bridge the divide between academic history and public audiences, and places graduates in jobs at historic sites and museums around New York. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in public history, as well as in his areas of academic interest: the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, technology, and capitalism. Convinced of history’s relevance to the forecasting of probable futures and the creation of preferred futures, he is developing a teaching competence in future studies.