Jenny Lee

Department: Geography
Discipline: Geography

Project Summary

Empire, Modernity and Design: Visual Culture and Cable & Wireless' Corporate Identities, 1924-1955

During the twentieth century, Cable & Wireless was the world’s biggest and most important telegraphy company, employing large numbers of people in stations across the world. Its network of submarine cables and wireless routes circumnavigated the globe, connecting Britain with the Empire. This thesis examines the ways in which the British Empire and modernity shaped Cable & Wireless’ corporate identity in order to understand the historical geography of the relationships between Empire, state, and modernity. Additionally, it investigates the role of design in the Company’s engagement with the discourses of modernity and imperialism. Historical Geography has not paid sufficient attention to the role of companies, in particular technology companies, as institutions of imperialism and instruments of modernity. The study of businesses within Historical Geography is in its infancy, and this thesis will provide a major contribution to this developing field. This thesis takes an interdisciplinary approach that sits at the intersection of three main disciplines: Historical Geography, Design History and Business History.

This thesis examines how Cable & Wireless’ identity was produced, transmitted and consumed. This thesis is based on detailed research in Cable &Wireless’ corporate archive at Porthcurno, examining a wide range of visual and textual sources. This pays particular attention to how the Company designed its corporate identity through maps, posters, ephemera, corporate magazines and exhibitions. Drawing upon the conceptualizations of the Empire as a network, it argues that Cable & Wireless’ identity was networked like its submarine cables with decision-making power, money and identity traversing this network. This thesis seeks to place both the company and the concept of corporate identity within a broader historical and artistic context, tracing the development of both the company’s institutional narrative and the corporate uses of visual technologies.

No study has been conducted into the corporate identity and visual culture of Cable & Wireless. This thesis not only provides a new dimension to knowledge and understanding of the historical operations of Cable & Wireless, but also makes a substantive contribution to the wider fields of Historical Geography, Business History, Design History and the study of visual culture.

Supervisory Team

Dr James Ryan and Prof. Catherine Leyshon

Authored Publications/Reports

Jenny Lee () Territory, distance and speed: Cable & Wireless’ use of cartography in the early twentieth century, Imago Mundi, (Submitted)