Communication and Transportation: A Historical Perspective

Photo by Anucha Sirivisansuwan/

An old-school trolley bus takes people back to the past, and the past can be felt through arts and performances. This fantastic combination of transportation and culture inspires us to embrace a broader perspective of communication. For a long time, communication has been heavily concerned with signs, symbols, messages, and meanings. Armand Mattelart, a Belgian sociologist, cautions that conceptualizing communication as merely immaterial causes us to forget the history of communication processes long before the appearance of modern mass media. As Matterlart argues, western ideas about communication were born with the influential work on the circulation of blood, written by the seventeenth-century English scientist William Harvey (Boutros & Straw, 2010, p. 5). Drawing upon this idea, communication was invented, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries of France, as a project to build healthy circulatory systems in national territory, where the transport of people, goods, and information could become unblocked and freely flowing (Mattelart, 1996).

Alongside Matterlart’s account of the invention of communication, James Carey’s articulation of the relationship between transportation and communication could better help us appreciate the merits of the show–Bus from the Past. For James Carey, “from the time upper and lower Egypt were unified under the First Dynasty down through the invention of the telegraph, transportation and communication were inseparably linked” (Carey, 1989, p.15). This is because, “before the telegraph, the movement of messages was always dependent on their being carried on foot or horseback or by rail” (Carey, 1989, p.15). The invention of the telegraph, for the first time, “allowed messages to be separated from the physical movement of objects” (Carey, 1989, p.305).

While people today are very much used to the separation of communication from transportation, this historical background reminds us that communication was used to describe transportation and message transmittal for a very long time in human history. Let’s revive the experiences of the old pattern of communication again in the Bus from the Past, as the Bus transports not only people but also culture from the past.


  • Mattelart, A. (1996). The Invention of Communication. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press.
  • Boutros, A., & Straw, W. (2010). Circulation and the City: Essays on Urban Culture. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
  • Carey, J. (1989). “A Cultural Approach to Communication.” In Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society (pp. 13-37). Boston: Unwin Hyman
  • Caret, J. (1989). “Technology and Ideology: The Case of the Telegraph.” In Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society (pp. 201-231). Boston: Unwin Hyman

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