Liens transverses ENS de Lyon

Agenda de l'ENS de Lyon

"Placing the history of advertising": Une histoire spatiale de la publicité à Shanghai (1905-1949)

Soutenance de thèse

Mardi 27 juin 2017
14 h 00
Cécile ARMAND (Laboratoire IAO)


Cécile ARMAND (Laboratoire IAO)

Description générale

Directly inspired by Philip Ethington's proposal of "placing history", my dissertation offers a spatial approach to the history of advertising in modern Shanghai (1905-1949). This spatial trend aims to shift the gaze from the mainstream cultural approach (focused on representations visible on press advertisements), to a spatial and material approach of advertising, more concerned with the physical aspects of advertisements. with a genuine concern for the physical aspects of advertisements. My dissertation is not confined to the press: it also studies outdoor advertising, which actually emerged in Shanghai at the turn of the 19-20th centuries, and fully developed after W.W.I. To meet this challenge, the dissertation falls into three main parts, subdivided into seven chapters.

The first part (chapter 1 and 2) is devoted to mapping and measuring the spaces of advertising in Shanghai, both in the local press (Chinese newspaper Shenbao and British North-China Daily News), as well as within the city. In the second part, chapters 3, 4 and 5 examine the actors who made and inhabited these spaces. My approach encompasses a broad definition of actors, embracing both human and non-human ones. It is not restricted to people and individuals, as it also includes the various institutions involved in the advertising business (advertising agencies, manufacturing companies/advertisers, clubs and other organizations), as well as branded goods which emerged in Shanghai in the 1920-1940s. The advertising profession lies at the heart of my project – more precisely, the advent of a new professional activity called “advertising” in modern Shanghai, almost at the same time as it emerged in Europe and the United States. In the third chapter, my first line of inquiry is to understand their process of legitimation through organizations and discourses, and to identify the people and institutions that contributed to the birth of this new profession. The advertising “milieu” finally operated as a sort of “in-between” or cultural intermediary between multiple actors, that I examine in chapters 4 and 5. Chapter 4 deals with production and consumption: it endeavors to classify the products that were advertised in the press and in the streets of Shanghai, and the consumers they may have targeted. Chapter 5 is devoted to advertising “landscapes”. In this chapter, I used the term landscape as an operative concept to replace the overused - and often misused - notion of representation. The notion of landscape covers every dimension of advertisements: their physical environment at various scales (from newspaper issue, page or page section in the press, to district, site and building in the city), the copy surface (textual and visual elements which composed advertisements), and the discourses they carried (styles, appeals). The sixth chapter offers to use advertising spaces as an ideal observatory for examining tensions, conflicts and other forms of relationships surrounding advertising, as well as a laboratory for inventing urban modernity in Shanghai – that is, new ways of conceiving and living the city in modern Shanghai. As spatial approaches are often blamed for “freezing” history, my dissertation eventually attempts to trace the circulations and rhythmic patterns between the printed and urban spaces (chapters 7 and 8).

Shanghai from 1905 to 1949 provides the spatial and chronological framework of my project. While the role of Shanghai as a major center for business, commercial culture and for the publishing industry is well-established, its importance in the burgeoning of the new advertising profession is less well known. Yet Shanghai is without contest the place where the advertising profession was born in China around 1919. The year 1905 marked the first occurrence of “modern” billboards in Shanghai International settlement. Therefore, it should be used as a relevant starting date for my project. In 1949, the proclamation of the People Republic of China (RPC) and the entering of the communist troops in Shanghai, opened a new era for the history of advertising in China.

Owing to the protean nature of advertising and the multiple paths opened by the spatial approach, my dissertation relies on a wide range of primary materials. Most of them are entirely new or have been unexplored until now. Apart from press advertisements (Shenbao, North China Daily News), I have used the archives of major advertising agencies in Shanghai: the American-owned Carl Crow, Inc. and Acme Advertising Agency, the French Oriental Advertising Agency, the British Millington, Ltd., the Chinese China Commercial Agency, the multinational Claude Neon Light, Fed. Inc. Scattered between Shanghai, Hong Kong, London and the United States (Missouri), these archives contain newsletters, accounts, sketches, proofs of advertisements, bills, as well as correspondence with clients, municipal authorities and other institutions. The Shanghai Municipal Archives (SMA) are full of inventories, unpublished reports, audits of advertising agencies, permits and requests, regulations and correspondence with companies. A few published reports also shed light on the adverting profession in Shanghai (Sanger, 1921; Bacon, 1929). Advertising handbooks are rich yet repetitive sources for documenting the practical training of advertising men/women and the elaboration of a set of standards for the profession. Apart from a brief history of advertising, they usually give advice on how to prepare a campaign, how to choose the right medium, how to compose the copy. The first Chinese handbooks were published later than their American counterparts. They actually consisted in mere translations of their American “models”, with no efforts to adapt to the Chinese market. The local press in Shanghai (Shenbao, Shanghai Times, North China Herald/Daily News) provides precious information regarding the advertising profession, especially at its beginning: general meetings of agencies or clubs, conferences, articles on novel artifacts (neon lights), as well as legal cases, reflecting conflicts between manager and employees, agencies and clients, or public opinion about advertising. The personal papers of advertising men, diplomats or businessmen, provide additional information about the profession (Carl Crow, the American Commercial Attache Julean Arnold and the lawyer Norwood Allman). The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, D.C. holds many unpublished reports from the Department of Commerce, dealing with various branded goods and lines of business, as well as correspondence with the Commercial Attaché, the General Consulate, Chambers of Commerce and private companies in Shanghai. Street photographs, plans and sketches of advertising structures eventually provided rich materials for precisely documenting the material aspects of advertisements, and to locate them within their physical environment.

I also strived to offer new ways of exploiting more “classical” materials, such as press advertisements, by cross-examining them with archival and multimedia materials, and by processing them through adequate digital tools. Since the beginning, I have been convinced that the history of advertising presents an ideal “terrain” for taking advantage of the new resources available to historians in the digital age. Conversely, I believe that this digital ecology offers unexpected opportunities for renewing research questions and methodologies in the field of (Chinese) history.

Considering the variety and abundance of materials I had at my disposal to answer challenging research questions, I used a wide range of digital tools, which fall into four main groups:
• Geographical information systems (QGis, ArcGis) have been used to locate the various types of advertisements within the city (shopsigns, billboards, neon lights, and more “eccentric” ones, such as advertising balloons, illuminated kiosks, clocks or pillars). The resulting maps helped me to visualize and analyze patterns of localization, and their changes across time. By juxtaposing them with administrative districts and zoning, GIS also revealed overlapping or discordances with the spatial expressions of municipal taxation and regulations.

• Historical database (Actoz): used to precisely identify the various types of actors involved in the advertising business (individuals, advertising agencies, manufacturing companies, as well as branded goods), and to finely analyze their complex relationships across time. “Actoz” is both an elaborate and flexible database. Its capacity to process

any type of historical document, to support a multilingual environment (including Chinese), to handle both precise dates and any form of fuzzy temporal data, and to connect actions and actors in order to reveal patterns of relation, makes it a relevant and powerful tool for historical research. “Actoz” has actually proved a smart and valuable companion in the process of writing my dissertation, especially chapters 3 and 4 that deal with the actors involved in the advertising business.

• Qualitative data software (Nvivo): to map and modelize visual materials (press advertisements and street photographs), to analyze their various elements, to identify visual patterns, and trace their circulations from one image to another. Beyond that, NVivo has also proved a powerful tool for organizing and connecting my protean documentation, by arranging materials around thematic “nodes” (“node” being the central concept on which this tool is based).

• Mind-mapping tools (X-Mind): my dissertation offers creative ways of using “conventional” mind-mapping tools. For instance, I have used X-mind to build what I call “brandscapes” or “brandstrees” that aim to visualize the branded goods displayed on advertisements, to examine their genealogical connections with manufacturing companies or local distributors, as well as pattern of competition between rival brands and advertisers competing for the same market.

• Timelines. I have mainly used the Quebec-based tool “La ligne du temps” to build my timelines. Despite its simplistic appearance, it has proved a powerful tool for placing events in broader temporal frameworks. It also includes notions of duration and allows connections between events, which leaves the tool open to creative uses. I have also experimented the tool “Chronozoom” to embed various scales of spacetime (from advertising series and campaigns, to cyclical trends and broader political and social history of Shanghai, China and the world).

Through the experimental process, I have produced a huge amount of various digital-born materials (graphs, maps, trees, timelines). In cooperation with my advisor Prof. Henriot and research engineer Gérald Foliot, we finally built an ad hoc digital platform to host and gather these multimedia materials - MADSpace ( Although MADSpace is actually an integral part of my dissertation, it is still – and may always remain - a work in progress.


ENS de Lyon - Site Monod - Salle des Thèses