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Histories of public relations: Comparing the historiography of British, German and US public relations

Oliver Raaz (University of Leipzig, Leipzig, Germany)
Stefan Wehmeier (FHWien University of Applied Sciences, Vienna, Austria)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Article publication date: 2 August 2011




This paper seeks to compare different national PR histories in order to unfold the degree of abstract reflection in PR history writing. It aims to provide some suggestions for a future PR historiography, based on this comparison.


The paper compares British, German, and US American PR historiography. The study is based on a comparison of 36 PR histories. A triple matrix of theoretization is used in order to differentiate the histories.


Within the comparison American PR historiography accounts for 24 public relations history approaches, whereas Great Britain (1) and Germany (11) offer fewer histories. However, this richness in quantity does not lead to theoretical diversification. Owing to the paradigmatic obligation to a progressivist understanding, American PR historiography actually entails only one theoretic approach, while its German equivalent includes three different theoretic approaches and British PR historiography – being at its start – at least contains one explicitly non‐progressivist, methodologically well‐informed, fact‐oriented example. Paradoxically, the prevailing American PR historiography, on the one hand, conceptualizes PR as a modern phenomenon but, on the other hand, claims even ancient beginnings.

Research limitations/implications

The corpus of analysis contains only studies that attempt to supply an encompassing overview of (national) PR history.

Practical implications

Public relations managers may use these findings to achieve a more nuanced critical understanding of the history of their occupation, and thereby reflect on its current state, which may lead to intensified ethical endeavours.


The paper presents a pioneer systematic comparison of the three national PR histories, which may lead to enhanced national and general PR historiography. Another value is the establishment of a theoretically informed comparative measuring instrument, which (in future) can also be applied in order to compare and improve other national PR historiographies.



Raaz, O. and Wehmeier, S. (2011), "Histories of public relations: Comparing the historiography of British, German and US public relations", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 15 No. 3, pp. 256-275.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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