University of Leuven
Masters of the Mass Press: The Rise of the Mediated Political Leader in the Age of New Imperialism
The large-scale political use of the mass media arguably first occurred during World War I. However, the mass press already emerged around 1880, so how did the relation between politics and mass media develop in those first decades between 1880 and 1914? In my project I investigate this question by focusing on the interactions between political leaders and the mass press in colonial politics. As the New Imperialism was a major theme in the emerging mass presses of European countries and constituted an international policy domain in which leadership roles were comparatively less predefined and thus open to leadership competition, colonial politics provides a rich context for understanding how leaders and the media used each other and interacted internationally. Based on an initial survey of the secondary literature and historical newspapers, I selected five leaders that seemed to have become particularly well-attuned to the demands of modern mediated politics: British Colonial Minister Joseph Chamberlain, Cape Colony Prime Minister Cecil Rhodes, Belgian King Leopold II, German Foreign Minister and Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow, and German Emperor Wilhelm II. Moreover, these leaders were not only ‘modern’ in engaging with both politics and the media, but also with business – and some of them leveraged their economic power to influence the press. To research the ways in which they displayed press-politics interactions, I analyse (auto)biographies (also of press aides such as Otto Hammann and Hermann von Eckardstein), government documents, and newspapers from the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, and Southern Africa. To limit the newspaper material, I focus on a number of (international) media events relating to the colonial politics of Southern Africa and the Congo Free State: the 1895-6 Jameson Raid, the 1895 Charles Stokes execution, the 1899 Rhodes-Wilhelm II meeting, the 1900 Paul Kruger Europe tour, the 1902 row between Chamberlain and Bülow, the 1902-3 Chamberlain South Africa tour, the 1904 Casement Report, the 1908 Daily Telegraph affair, and the 1906-8 Congo annexation debate. In my analysis I employ an international rather than comparative perspective to understand how the political leaders and presses interacted across national borders and how these leaders became international political actors and symbols. My main argument will probably be that, around the turn of the nineteenth century, the first ‘modern’ political leaders emerged, who learned through experiences both the dangers and opportunities created by the new mass media, and who consequently adopted a media logic in which they attempted (and struggled) to maintain and strengthen their mediated leadership roles.
Modern history of mass media and politics; modern history of political leadership
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