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Spring 2015

Chambers 3084

Tuesday and Thursday, 3:05-4:20

This course explores communication technologies and knowledge production in the antebellum United States, while introducing students to newer methods afforded by digital studies.  By the end of the course, students will understand how people parsed information, talked, wrote, and signaled one another in the past. They will also understand how new tools help us to communicate both with other scholars and with the public today.  Throughout the course they will engage in formal historical writing – historiography, primary source analysis, historical interpretation – as well as with the new opportunities for public engagement afforded by digital history.

We will examine both elite and non-elite modes of knowledge production and transmission, and how communication was used both to exert power and as a form of resistance.  Over the course of the semester, students will engage with primary sources, historical monographs and popular culture representations of communication and knowledge production in America’s past.



  • Students will become familiar with the history and historiography of early American communication.
  • Students will learn to engage with the public through digital history projects.
  • Students will be able to distinguish between different approaches to and ideas about reading, writing and other forms of knowledge production in antebellum America.
  • Students will be able to use the historical and digital methods to digest and assess scholarly works on the history of communication.
  • Students will be able to assess both scholarly works on digital history and works of digital history.
  • Students will be able to distinguish between different digital tools and historical methods, and to select the best gizmo for the job.
  • Students will become familiar with different types of digital and historical narrative data, and the methods used to collect that data



  • What are the major turning points in the history of American communication, and why?
  • How to we trace and map networks of American communication?
  • What are themes in North Americans’ communication history?   How does knowing more about those themes alter the landscape of U.S. history?
  • Whose stories are most frequently told in American communication history?  Whose stories are told less frequently?  Why would you like to see better represented in this history?
  • How do digital history tools help us to tell American communication history in different ways?



Header Image adapted from Charles N. Fisher and Charles L. Downes, “Patent for stylographic fountain pens”