Communication - research on media and manipulation

© exc

How do societies communicate with and among each other? The exchange of information has always underpinned human interaction. The exhibition “Small disciplines – great potential” uses videos, stories and sharepics to present research findings from the small disciplines of the humanities in the field of communication, the contributions ranging from Greek oracles and the Incas’ enigmatic system of writing using knots (quipu), to Dutch world literature and Jewish manuscripts, and to the shift from book printing to the e-book today.

  • Communication – media and manipulation

    The exchange of information has always underpinned human interaction. In the middle of the 4th millennium BCE, writing joined oral communication as a new means of exchange in the Near East. The invention of printing in the 15th century then revolutionized communication once again, since a much wider audience now had access to information at the same time. Since the 20th century, the computer and the smartphone have profoundly affected the exchange of information.


    Communication is not only about a text’s content; just as important are the context, as well as the form and the medium. There can also be symbolism, which is expressed through a complex system of gestures, signs and signals. The scholarly interest in communication lies in understanding how communication works within and between societies. On the one hand, new media are emerging, often at great speed, with this covering all areas and forms of exchange. On the other, it is important to uncover the mechanisms of communication and to examine how they are used in political and social discourses. The deliberate creation of parallel and fake discourses that offer simplified or distorted news has become an instrument of political rule (fake news).


    The exhibition focuses on two main areas here: the means and paths of communication; and the recipients and messages.


    For a message to reach someone, it has to be comprehensible. Texts must be translated or be available in a language that everyone understands: today, this is primarily English. Another option is to work with universal images that convey the desired information without words. There are many ways to communicate not only with the living, but also with the otherworldly and the supernatural, with people having turned to the gods for advice since ancient times. Numerous votives and slips of paper with petitions on in places of pilgrimage bear witness to this practice, which is still popular today.


    Article from the catalogue for the exhibition “Small disciplines – great potential”


From manuscript to e-book

From gold to black-and-white – Jewish media in transition. Book production has been subject to constant rationalization, with the quality and aesthetics of books having changed dramatically over the centuries. As Jewish studies shows, this change has continued with the advent of e-books.

Communicating with the gods

Making decisions is difficult: as the discipline of ancient history shows, people in the ancient period asked the oracle for answers from the gods to questions about war or peace, writing their questions on small lead tablets.

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Unpicked knots

The Incas communicated with knotted strings, known as quipus, which they used to communicate for economic and administrative purposes. Non-European history displays one of the few surviving examples. After the Spanish conquest of the Inca empire, many quipus were destroyed, along with much of the knowledge of how to read them. Using the 800 or so knotted strings that have survived, researchers are working on deciphering the texts that the knots represent.

© Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Münster

World-class literature

As the discipline of Dutch studies shows, there are many literary and linguistic ties between Germany and the Netherlands. The 14th-century animal epic of Reynard the Fox in the Dyck manuscript, for example, is considered an important Dutch contribution to world literature and inspired Goethe.

© Lianna Hecht, Archäologisches Museum Uni MS

The “business language” of antiquity

Just as people travelling abroad today often use English as a lingua franca, so people used Aramaic in ancient times. Assyriology shows why the language was so well suited to communicating between the Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian empires.