Columbia Journalism School


Prof. Richard R. John wins first Ralph Gomory Book Prize

April 12, 2011

Prof. Richard R. John has been awarded the first Ralph Gomory Book Prize for "Network Nation: Inventing American Telecommunication" by the Business History Conference. The Gomory Prize recognizes historical work that explores the effect of business enterprises on the economic conditions of a country in which they operate.


The BHC committee, chaired by Dr. Pamela Laird, selected "Network Nation" from among 40 books nominated for the prize. Laird read the committee's citation at the BHC awards ceremony in St. Louis this month.

Telephony and, for a century, telegraphy became so fundamental to modernity that grasping their histories' contingencies and complexities presents a daunting challenge. Only a scholar exceptionally dedicated to the historian's craft and totally immersed in historical evidence could avoid casting a presentist shadow over what now looks to have been inevitable. Only a scholar deeply knowledgeable about the actors, the political, social, and cultural contexts, and the technologies themselves could write such a history. Richard R. John has admirably met these challenges, seeing inventions and decisions about them through the lenses of the decision makers' experiences and goals rather than through ours. It is with great pleasure, therefore, that the Gomory Prize Committee, after carefully evaluating a large pool of excellent books, awards the inaugural Gomory Book Prize to "Network Nation: Inventing American Telecommunications," published in 2010 by the prestigious Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

This prize, which carries a $5,000 honorarium, was established by the BHC and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to honor Dr. Ralph Gomory, a former IBM executive and Sloan Foundation president.

John is a historian of communications who specializes in the political economy of communications in the United States. His publications include many essays, two edited books, and two monographs: "Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse" (1995) and "Network Nation."

John has appeared on C-SPAN's Book TV and before an audience at the New America Foundation to discuss " Network Nation."

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