St. John’s Latest Book Covers the History of Public Relations
Burton St. John III, associate professor of communication in Old Dominion University's College of Arts and Letters, joined with historians from around the world to celebrate the arrival of his fourth book in the last five years, "Pathways to Public Relations: Histories of Practice and Profession," co-edited with Meg Lamme of the University of Alabama and Jacquie L'Etang of Queen Margaret University in Scotland.
The work was announced as part of the fifth annual celebration of the International History of Public Relations Conference earlier this month at England's Bournemouth University.
The book, featuring contributions from 28 authors across five continents, establishes the influence of public relations as far back as the Roman era. It goes beyond tracking key elements of the rise of public relations as a profession to also investigate the role of PR in the areas of government, reform and religion.
Routledge published the volume as part of its New Directions in Public Relations and Communications Research initiative.
Routledge began the initiative, in part, to deepen analysis of how individuals, institutions and groups have used various rhetorical stances to persuade others to pay attention to, believe in and adopt a course of action.
St. John said public relations is a particularly appropriate area for deeper study. The emergence of public relations as an occupation in the early 20th century led scholars to describe this new iteration of persuasion as a unique, more systematized and technical form of wielding influence, he said. "This resulted in an overemphasis on practice," he said. "That is, PR was often studied as a new tactical approach to persuasion that many observers maintained began in the U.S."
This volume responds to such approaches by expanding the framework for understanding public relations history. St. John said. "It investigated broad, conceptual questions concerning the ways in which public relations rose as a practice and a field within different cultures and countries at different times in history."
The International History of Public Relations Conference is organized by the Public Relations Research Group in Bournemouth University's Media School. It is an annual opportunity for scholars, historians and interested practitioners from around the world to meet, hear papers and discuss the history of public relations.
Previously, St. John has authored two books on public journalism and press propaganda: "Professionalization and Propaganda: The Rise of Journalistic Double-Mindedness," and "Public Journalism 2.0: The Promise and Reality of a Citizen-Engaged Press." Additionally, he has written book chapters for The Virginian-Pilot's "Co-Pilot Project: Public Journalism 2.0?" and "Legacy: Propaganda, Journalism and the Domestic Struggle over the Commodification of Truth."