Full Description

Today, mass media and social media infuse every aspect of our lives. New digital technologies have disrupted traditional forms of print, radio, and television and transformed not only how we communicate with one another, but how we participate in the economy, community, and civic life. The internet has dramatically changed how we produce, share, and consume media content. One form of media content especially important for public life and civic participation is news. And news has been revolutionized as well. Now anyone with a smart phone can be a journalist and any website a television channel. Who controls the flow of public information—who mediates “the news”—in the twenty-first century? The answer to that question is changing every day.

But ordinary people’s use of media—including news media—to understand their world, shape events within it, and define and create themselves is not new. The history of America has always been intimately entwined with the history of communications media—and that has always been changing. The News Media and the Making of America: 1730-1865 will explore another era of rapid change in media technology, business, politics, and community life. The goal of this Institute is to help you help your students see their own media lives in historical perspective.

The News Media and the Making of America: 1730-1865 is a two week summer institute that will take the form of a colloquium and hands-on workshop whose main theme is the function of news and public information in the community life of America, from the colonial period through the Civil War. Topics include a variety of community types —towns and cities, revolutionary coalitions, political parties, voluntary associations, geographic “sections,” and even “the nation” as a whole. Readings, discussions, and workshops will explore the diverse and changing milieu of communication forms and technologies: sermons and lectures, books and pamphlets, magazines and newspapers, photographs and illustrations, letters and word-of-mouth. In general, the aim is to understand the role of communication, especially print media, in the political, social, and cultural life of the American people in an era of rapid change in politics, business, and technology. We particularly want to explore how news and public information—in all its various forms—is connected to civic engagement and how media fit into the public and private lives of the American people.

The News Media and the Making of America Institute will be informed by the following general guiding questions: What counted as news in early America? How was news gathered, distributed, shared, and consumed? What impact did changes in media technology have on content? How do historians weigh technological change against other social and economic forces? What impact did law and government policy have? What roles did news and public information play in the lives of ordinary Americans? How might the experience of history shed light on our experience with media today? How might our experience with media today shed light on our understanding of history?

The American Antiquarian Society is the ideal place to hold such a summer institute. AAS is a learned society and a major independent national research library of pre-twentieth- century American history and culture whose mission is to collect, preserve, and make available for study the printed record of what is now the United States. The collection comprises approximately four million items from the colonial period through the year 1876, including more than two-thirds of all known imprints created in America before 1821. This is the single greatest repository of such materials in the world. Additionally, the Society’s holdings of American printed materials dating from 1821 through 1876 are among the strongest anywhere. The AAS library houses books, pamphlets, broadsides, newspapers, periodicals, sheet music, and graphic arts material, as well as manuscripts and a substantial collection of secondary works, bibliographies, and other reference works related to all aspects of American history and culture before the twentieth century. All of these materials are housed in the Society’s home in Worcester, Massachusetts, the site of The News Media and the Making of America: 1730-1865 Institute. The American Antiquarian Society is the holder of record for early American imprints, always preserving the original artifacts even if digital facsimiles of them are created.

The materiality of printed materials will be an important component of The News Media and the Making of America Institute. In the library workshops you, as an Institute participant, will work with actual artifacts and explore these historical documents and images through hands-on activities that promote intellectual inquiry, analysis and synthesis.

We will also provide you with digital facsimiles of our library materials. A good portion of the Society’s collections have been digitized and are part of commercial databases available through NewsBank, EBSCO, Alexander Street and other publishing partners. All of these databases will be available to you during the Institute. You will also be able to download individual digital facsimiles of sources that you discover in these databases and use them with your students at a later time. Additionally, materials discussed during the library workshop sessions will be placed on this website so that you can replicate the workshop activities with your students in your own classroom.

The Institute will be divided into six major thematic units, usually with two days allotted to each theme. See the Institute schedule for further details on the content of the program. Each day will be devoted to faculty presentations and class discussions in the morning followed by hands-on library workshops in the AAS library collections or off-site visits in the afternoons. These off-site visits will be to an eighteenth- century printing house in Boston and Old Sturbridge Village.

As part of the Institute, each participant will be asked to identify one or several primary sources that they encountered during the twelve days and write a short description of how they would use the material in their classroom and “background notes” that unpack the text or image. These background notes provide important historical context, explain symbols or arcane references, define words and phrases and place the artifact in a larger historical context, all designed to help you quickly gain a deep knowledge of the document so that you feel comfortable using it with your students.

Now here is a little information about each of us, project directors.

I, Dave Paul Nord, became a historian of journalism many years ago because I was interested, independently, in both history and journalism. I was a history major in college at Valparaiso University and in graduate school at the University of Minnesota, but then in my twenties I worked as a reporter for a small newspaper in Indiana and for the Associated Press in Minnesota and North Dakota. How could I bring my two separate interests together? I went back to grad school to study both history and mass communication research at the University of Wisconsin, and then I took a job as the resident historian in the School of Journalism at Indiana University. For thirty years I taught both history courses and courses in newswriting and media politics and economics. As a scholarly writer, I have focused mainly on newspapers and their readers in eighteenth-and-nineteenth century America. I have also studied religious publishing and readership in the early nineteenth century. Meanwhile, I served several terms as associate editor and interim editor of the Journal of American History. Though I have always been a student of U.S. history, my latest project is a comparative study of the economic ideology of urban newspapers in Britain and America, with a close focus on two remarkable cities in the Victorian age, Manchester and Chicago.

And I, James David Moran, have been conducting workshops and seminars for K-12 educators for over thirty years. In fact, I started the Society’s K-12 programming when I became the Society’s first director of outreach in 1994. Since that time we have worked with educators from across the country helping them gain access to the rich collections of the Society and building communities of scholarship where all participants engage and learn together. I am particularly interested in engaging people with the material objects of American print culture. To be able to touch, hold and study an eighteenth- or nineteenth-century imprint is often a transformative experience. One can connect viscerally with the past through the physicality of an object. Additionally, the physical object provides a wonderful way to understand how printed materials functioned within their own time. With this understanding one can gain greater insights into issues of authority, consumption and reception. My early experiences as a classroom teacher and my work developing curriculum have given me keen insights into the needs of students and educators. I look forward to helping you translate our collective scholarly pursuits into meaningful classroom experiences.

We hope you will join us as we explore The News Media and the Making of America: 1730-1865!


James David Moran and David Paul Nord
Project Directors

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