Survey of Communication Study/Chapter 4 - History of Communication Study
- 1 Chapter 4
- 1.1 The History of Human Communication Study
- 1.2 Old School: The Four Early Periods of Communication Study
- 1.3 New School: Communication Study in the 20th Century
- 1.4 Communication Study Today and Tomorrow
- 1.5 Summary
- 1.6 Discussion Questions
- 1.7 Key Terms and People
- 1.8 References
The History of Human Communication Study
ommunication is an increasingly popular major at colleges and universities. In fact, according The Princeton Review: Guide to College Majors (2005), Communication is the 8th most popular major in the U.S (p. 13). With increased demands placed on students to have “excellent communication skills” in their careers, many students choose to earn their degree in Communication. Most of us implicitly understand that humans have always communicated, but many do not realize that the intellectual study of communication has taken place for thousands of years.
As with the rest of the book, this chapter is divided by events that preceded the industrial revolution (2500 BCE – 1800’s), and those that occurred after the industrial revolution (1850’s-Present). Previous to the invention of the printing press, which pre-dated the industrial revolution by a few hundred years, the formal study of communication was relatively slow. However, as a result of the printing press and the rapid expansion of technology that followed during the industrial age that increased the amount of easily shared information, the formal study of communication gained considerable momentum, developing into what you now understand as Communication departments and majors at colleges and universities around the country.
To keep our focus on the two time periods that greatly mark the development of communication study, we have divided this chapter into the Old School and New School. Part I focuses on Old School communication study by highlighting the origins of our field through the works of classical rhetorical scholars in ancient Greece and moving through the enlightenment period that ushered in the industrial age. Part II focuses on the New School of communication study by identifying how the four early periods influenced the development of communication study over the last 100+ years into what it is today.
Old School: The Four Early Periods of Communication Study
o fully appreciate the current state of communication study, it’s important to have a historical perspective—not only to understand the field itself, but also to know how you ended up in a Communication class or major. Over time, the study of communication has largely been prompted by the current social issues of particular time periods. Knowing this, we’ll examine the pertinent questions, topics, and scholars of the Classical, Medieval, Renaissance, and Enlightenment periods to find out what they learned about communication to help them, before highlighting the rapid growth of contemporary communication.
There is a written historical bias that gives the accomplishments of male scholars in Ancient Greece the greatest recognition for the early development of our field. Because society favored and privileged males, it is often difficult to find written records of the accomplishments of others. We believe it is essential that you understand that many of the earliest influences on communication study also came from feminine and Eastern perspectives, not just the men of ancient Greek society. No doubt you’ve heard of Aristotle, but ancient Indian literature shows evidence of rhetorical theory pre-dating Aristotle by almost half a century. In fact, Indians were so attuned to the importance of communication, they worshipped the goddess of speech, Vach (Gangal & Hosterman, 1982). The Theosophical Society (2005) states:
- To call Vach ‘speech’ simply, is deficient in clearness. Vach is the mystic personification of speech, and the female Logos, being one with Brahma….In one sense Vach is ‘speech’ by which knowledge was taught to man…..she is the subjective Creative Force which…becomes the manifested ‘world of speech.”
The Mypurohith Encyclopaedia (2005) tells us that:
- Vach appears to be the personification of speech by whom knowledge was communicated to man….who, ”created the waters from the world [in the form] of speech (Vach).”
Unfortunately, many of our field’s histories exclude works other than those of Ancient Greek males. Throughout the book, we try to provide a balanced view of the field by weaving in feminine and Eastern traditions to provide you with a well-rounded perspective of the development of communication study around the world. Let’s start by focusing on the earliest period of the Old School – The Classical Period.
The Classical Period (500 BCE-400 CE)
In the cult-classic 1989 movie, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, two air-headed teenagers use time-travel to study history for a school project. Along the way they kidnap a group of historical figures, including Socrates. During their encounter with Socrates, Ted tells Bill, "Ah, here it is, So-crates... 'The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing.’ That's us, dude!" Unless you are able to time-travel, you will have to read about the early founders of Old School communication, such as Aspasia, Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato. It was at the Lyceum approximately 2,500 years ago that Aristotle and other rhetoricians taught public speaking and persuasion, which marks what we refer to as the Classical Period of communication study.
If you’ve taken a college public-speaking class, you’ve probably learned and applied principles of public speaking developed during the Classical Period. During this time, people placed high value on the spoken word and argumentation skills; accentuated emotion and logic to persuade others; and developed guidelines for public presentations. It is largely agreed-upon that the formal study of communication began approximately 2,500 years ago in Greece and Sicily. It is here that we will begin our tour of Ancient Greece with the “fantastic four”—Aspasia of Miletus, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle—who have come to be regarded as the foremother and forefathers of rhetoric and the field of Communication as a whole. Then, we’ll turn to scholars who extended the work of the fantastic four—Corax, Tisias, Cicero, Quintilian and Pan Chao.
The argument can be made that our field primarily emphasizes the contributions of men because women were routinely excluded from education as well as other public institutions during this time. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that several women actively contributed to this period (Harris, 1989), participating in and receiving educational opportunities not afforded to most women. This begs the question, “If some women were receiving advanced education and producing work in philosophy and rhetoric themselves, then it becomes more puzzling to explain the absence of any surviving texts by them” (Bizzell & Herzberg, 1990, p. 26). So, who can we look to as an example of a prominent female scholar during this early period?
Aspasia of Miletus (469 BCE) is an excellent example of an educated woman who is often credited as the “mother of rhetoric” (Glenn, 1995). Although relatively little is known about her scholarship because of her disappearance from history circa 401 BCE, Aspasia of Miletus is believed to have taught rhetoric and home economics to Socrates. Her influence extends to Plato as well who argued that belief and truth are not always interchangeable. Even Cicero used Aspasia’s lesson on induction as the centerpiece for his argumentation chapter in De Inventione (Glenn). Aspasia’s social position was that of a hetaera, or romantic companion, who was “more educated than respectable women, and [was] expected to accompany men on occasions where conversation with a woman was appreciated, but wives were not welcome” (Carlson, 1994, p. 30). Her specialty was philosophy and politics, and she became the only female member of the elite Periclean circle. In this circle she made both friends and enemies as a result of her political savvy and public speaking ability.
Aspasia was described as one of the most educated women of her era and was determined to be treated as an equal to men (an early feminist to say the least!). She was born into privilege in Miletus, a Greek settlement on the coast of Western Turkey, and did not have many of the same restrictions as other women, working her way to prominence most often granted only to the men of her time. During this period Pericles, the Athenian ruler and Aspasia’s partner, treated Aspasia as an equal and allowed her every opportunity to engage in dialogue with the important and educated men of society. Socrates acknowledged Aspasia as having one of the best intellects in the city. With this intellect and the opportunities presented to her, Aspasia was politically progressive, influencing the works of many of the men who are most-often credited with founding our field (PBS, 2005).
With Aspasia’s work influencing his education, Socrates (469-399 BCE) greatly influenced the direction of the Classical Period. Most of what we know about Socrates comes from the writings of his student Plato (429-347 BCE) who wrote about rhetoric in the form of dialogues where the main character was Socrates. This era produced much discussion regarding the best ways to write and deliver speeches, with a great deal of the debate focusing on the importance of truth and ethics in public speaking.
From these writings, the idea of the dialectic was born. While this term has been debated since its inception, Plato conceptualized it as a process of questions and answers that would lead to ultimate truth and understanding. Think for a moment about contemporary situations where people use this process. Have you ever had a discussion with a professor where he/she questioned you about your interpretation of a poem? Consider the role that a therapist takes when he/she asks you a series of questions to bring greater clarity in understanding your own thoughts, motives, and behavioral patterns. These are just two examples of dialectic at work. What others can you think of?
While Plato contributed a great deal to classical rhetorical theory he was also very critical of it. In Georgias, Plato argued that because rhetoric does not require a unique body of knowledge it is a false, rather than true, art. Similarly, Socrates was often suspicious of the kind of communication that went on in the courts because he felt it was not concerned with absolute truth. Ultimately, the legal system Socrates held in contempt delivered his fate. He was tried, convicted, and executed on charges of atheism and corrupting Athenian youth with his teachings (Kennedy, 1980). This same sentiment applies today when we think about lawyers in our courts. In the famous O.J. Simpson case in the 1990’s, Johnnie Cochran became famous for his phrase “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” This received great criticism because it didn’t really speak to the absolute truth of the facts of the case, while at the same time, was often credited as the reason O.J. Simpson was found not guilty.
The Classical Period flourished for nearly a millennium in and around Greece as democracy gained prominence in the lives of Greek citizens. During this time, people found themselves in the courts trying to regain family land that earlier tyrants had seized. As we have stated, social problems have guided the development of communication from the earliest periods. Trying to regain family through the court system became a primary social problem that influenced the focus of those studying communication during this time. Early communication practitioners sought the best methods for speaking and persuading. Although the concept of lawyers as we know them did not yet exist at this time in ancient Greece (Scallen, 2005), people needed effective persuasive speaking skills to get their family land back. Where did they learn these skills? They learned them from early speech teachers known as Sophists. Resourceful individuals such as Corax and Tisias (400’s BCE) taught effective persuasive speaking to citizens who needed to use these skills in courts to regain land ownership (Kennedy, 1980).
Historical records suggest that these two were among the first professional communication teachers that made use of the latest findings in communication for practical purposes. They also formed the basis of what we now recognize as professional lawyers (Scallen, 2005). Another Sophist, Isocrates (436-338 BCE), felt it was more important for a speaker to adapt to the individual speaking situation rather than have a single approach designed for all speaking occasions. It is likely that your public speaking teachers explain the importance of adapting to your audience in all communication situations.
Arguably the most famous Greek scholar, Aristotle (384-322 BCE), believed rhetoric could be used to create community. As we’ve highlighted, dialectic allows people to share and test ideas with one another. Aristotle entered Plato’s Academy when he was 17 and stayed on as a teacher where he taught public speaking and the art of logical discussion until Plato’s death in 347 BCE. He then opened his own school where students learned about politics, science, philosophy, and rhetoric (communication). Aristotle taught all of these subjects during his lectures in the Lyceum next to the public gymnasium, or during conversations he had with his students as he strolled along the covered walkway of the peripatos with the Athenian youth.
Aristotle defined rhetoric as the “faculty of discovering the possible means of persuasion in reference to any subject whatever” (Aristotle, trans. 1967, p. 15). We want to highlight two parts of this definition as particularly significant: “the possible means” and “persuasion.” “The possible means” indicates that Aristotle believed in the importance of context and audience analysis when speaking; a specific situation with a particular audience should influence how we craft our messages for each unique speaking situation.
Say you want to persuade your parents to give you a little extra cash to make it through the month. Chances are you will work through strategies for persuading them why you need the money, and why they should give it to you. You’ll likely reflect on what has worked in the past, what hasn’t worked, and what strategy you used last time. From this analysis, you construct a message that fits the occasion and audience. Now, let’s say you want to persuade your roommate to go out with you to Mexican food for dinner. You are not going to use the same message or approach to persuade your roommate as you would your parents. The same logic exists in public speaking situations. Aristotle highlighted the importance of finding the appropriate message and strategy for the audience and occasion in order to persuade. For Aristotle, rhetoric occurs when a person or group of people engage in the process of communicating for the purpose of persuading. Aristotle divided the “means of persuasion” into three parts, or three artistic proofs, necessary to persuade others: logical reason (logos), human character (ethos), and emotional appeal (pathos).
Logos is the presentation of logical, or seemingly logical, reasons that support a speaker’s position. When you construct the order of your speech and make decisions regarding what to include and exclude, you engage in logos. Ethos is when “The orator persuades by moral character when his speech is delivered in such a manner as to render him worthy of confidence…moral character…constitutes the most effective means of proof” (Aristotle, trans. 1967, p.17). Ethos, in short, is speaker credibility. The final proof, pathos, occurs when a speaker touches particular emotions from the audience. Aristotle explains, “the judgments we deliver are not the same when we are influenced by joy or sorrow, love or hate.” (Aristotle, trans. 1967, p. 17). Super Bowl commercials are often judged as effective or ineffective based on their use of pathos. Many times we consider commercials effective when they produce an emotional response from us such as joy, anger, or happiness.
Like Aristotle, Cicero saw the relationship between rhetoric and persuasion and its applicability to politics (Cicero, trans. 1960, p. 15). Quintilian extended this line of thinking and argued that public speaking was inherently moral. He stated that the ideal orator is “a good man speaking well” (Barilli, 1989). Cicero (106-43 BCE) and Quintilian (c. 35-95 CE) deserve recognition for combining much of what was known from the Greeks and Romans into more complete theoretical ideas. Think of politicians today. Is your first impression that politicians are good people speaking well? How do Aristotle’s notions of ethos, logos, and pathos factor in to your perceptions of politicians?
Cicero is most famous in the field of communication for creating what we call the five canons of rhetoric, a five-step process for developing a persuasive speech that we still use to teach public speaking today. Invention is the formulation of arguments based on logos--rational appeal or logic. Arrangement is ordering a speech in the most effective manner for a particular audience. Expression or style means “fitting the proper language to the invented matter” to enhance the enjoyment, and thus acceptability of the argument, by an audience (Cicero, trans. 1960, p. 21). Memory, a vital skill in the Classical Period is less of a requirement in today’s public speaking contexts because we now largely believe that memorized speeches often sound too scripted and stale. Notes, cue cards, and teleprompters are all devices that allow speakers to deliver speeches without committing them to memory. Finally, delivery is the use of nonverbal behaviors such as eye contact, gestures, and tone of voice during a presentation. If you have taken a public speaking class, have you used some or all of these to construct your presentations? If so, you can see the far reaching effects of the early developments in communication on what we teach today.
We want to round out our discussion of the Classical Period by highlighting the work of Pan Chao (c. 45 CE-115 CE). She was the first female historian in China and served as the imperial historian of the court of emperor Han Hedi. She was a strong believer in the benefits of education, and was another of the early female pioneers to argue for the education of girls and women. Writing, in Lessons for Women, on the four qualifications of womanhood (virtue, words, bearing, and work), she said that womanly words, “need be neither clever in debate nor keen in conversation,” but women should “…choose words with care; to avoid vulgar language; to speak at appropriate times; and to not weary others (with much conversation), [these] may be called the characteristics of womanly words” (Swann, 1932, p. 86).
Even though it began 2500 years ago, the Classical Period was filled with interesting people who made great strides in the formal study of communication to help with the social problems of their day. The Classical Period laid the foundation of our field and continues to impact our modern day practice of studying and performing communication. You have likely learned concepts from the Classical Period in your public speaking classes. Let’s examine the Medieval Period and its further development of our field.
The Medieval Period (400 CE-1400 CE)
In contrast to the Classical Period, which saw tremendous growth and innovation in the study of communication, the Medieval Period might be considered the dark ages of academic study in our field. During this era, the Greco-Roman culture was dominated by Christian influence after the fall of the Roman Empire. The church felt threatened by secular rhetorical works they considered full of pagan thought. While the church preserved many of the classical teachings of rhetoric, it made them scarce to those not in direct service to the church. A secular education was extremely hard to obtain during the Medieval Period for almost everyone.
Even though Christianity condemned communication study as pagan and corrupt, it embraced several aspects of the Classical Period to serve its specific purposes. The ideas from the Classical Period were too valuable for the church to completely ignore. Thus, they focused on communication study to help them develop better preaching and letter writing skills to persuade people to Christianity. Emphasis was placed on persuasion and developing public presentations, both oral and written. Like the Classical Period, those in power continued to stifle women’s participation in communication study, keeping them largely illiterate while men served as the overseers of the church and the direction of academic inquiry.
One of the most recognizable people from this era was Augustine (354 CE-430 CE), a Christian clergyman and renowned rhetorician who actually argued for the continued development of ideas that had originated during the Classical Period. He thought that the study of persuasion, in particular, was a particularly worthwhile pursuit for the church. Augustine was a teacher by trade and used his teaching skills as well as knowledge of communication to move “men” toward truth, which for him was the word of God (Baldwin, 1965).
With the exception of Augustine, the formal study of communication took a back seat to a focus on theological issues during the Medieval Period. Fortunately, the study of communication managed to survive as one of the seven branches of a liberal education during this period, but it remained focused on developing presentational styles apt for preaching. Boethius and the Archbishop Isidore of Seville made small efforts to preserve classical learning by reviving the works of Cicero and Quintilian to persuade people to be just and good. Nevertheless, aside from Augustine’s work, little progress was made during the remaining Medieval years; the formal study of communication literally plunged into the “dark ages” before reemerging during the Renaissance.
The Renaissance (1400-1600 CE)
Powered by a new intellectual movement during this period, secular institutions and governments started to compete with the church for personal allegiances. As more people felt comfortable challenging the church’s approach to education, reinvigorated attention to classical learning and fresh opportunities for scholarly education reemerged. As with the two previous periods we’ve examined, obtaining education for women was still tough, as many social limitations continued to restrict their access to knowledge.
Despite the continued oppression, several brave women took advantage of the changes brought in by the Renaissance. Christine de Pisan (1365-1429) has been praised as “Europe’s first professional woman writer” writing 41 pieces over a 30-year period (Redfern, 1995, p.74). Her most famous work, The Treasure of the Cities of Ladies, provided instruction to women on how they could achieve their potential and create for themselves lives rich in meaning and importance. According to Redfern, while “she neither calls herself a rhetorician nor calls The Treasure a rhetoric, her instruction has the potential to empower women’s speech acts in both public and private matters. Her most important lesson is that women’s success depends on their ability to manage and mediate by speaking and writing effectively” (Redfern, p. 74).
Italian Laura Cereta (1469-1499) initiated intellectual debates with her male counterparts through letter writing. Given the difficulties women had earning recognition in the educational arena, many of her letters went unanswered (Rabil, 1981). Despite these obstacles, she continued her education with diligence and is considered one of the earliest feminists. Through her letters she questioned women’s traditional roles and attempted to persuade many to alter their beliefs about the role of women and education.
Ideas surrounding issues of style in speaking situations received significant attention during the Renaissance period. Petrus Ramus (1515-1572) paid great attention to the idea of style by actually grouping style and delivery of the five canons together. Ramus also argued that invention and arrangement did not fit the canon and should be the focus of logic, not rhetoric. Ramus, who often questioned the early scholars, believed that being a good man had nothing to do with being a good speaker and didn’t think that focusing on truth had much to do with communication at all. Needless to say, he had a way of making a name for himself by challenging much of what early scholars thought of truth, ethics, and morals as they applied to communication. In contrast to Ramus, Francis Bacon (1561-1626), a contemporary of Shakespeare, believed that the journey to truth was paramount to the study and performance of communication. According to Bacon, reason and morality required speakers to have a high degree of accountability, making it an essential element in oration. Where do you think ethics, truth, and morality fit into communication today? Think about your concept of politicians or car salespersons. How do these notions fit when communicating in these contexts?
Scholars like Cereta, de Pisan, Ramus, and Bacon all furthered the study of communication as they challenged, debated, and scrutinized well established assumptions and “truths” about the field developed during the Classical Period. Their works reflect the dynamic nature of the Renaissance Period and the reemergence of discussion and deliberation regarding the nature and uses of communication. The works of these scholars were a springboard back into a full-blown examination of communication, which continued into The Enlightenment.
The Enlightenment (1600-1800 CE)
A maturing Europe continued to see a lessening of tension between the church and secular institutions, and the transformation of the Communication field was a reflection of broader cultural shifts. Modernizations like the printing press made the written word more readily available to the masses through newspapers and books thus, forever changing the ways people learned and communicated. This era was the precurser to the industrial revolution and began the rapid changes in the development of our field that were to come.
Golden, Berquist, and Colemen (1989) point to four prominent trends during The Enlightenment. Neoclassicism revived the classical approach to rhetoric by adapting and applying it to contemporary situations. Second, the eclectic method of belletristic scholars offered standards of style for presenting and critiquing oration, drama, and poetry. Englishman Hugh Blair (1718-1800) advocated the notion of good taste and character in communication encounters, and a book of his lectures was so popular that his publisher stated, “half of the educated English-speaking world was reading Blair” (Covino, p. 80). Third, the psychological/epistemological school of rhetoric applied communication study to basic human nature, knowledge, and thought. The Scottish minister and educator, George Campbell (1719-1796), tried to create convincing arguments using scientific and moral reasoning by seeking to understand how people used speech to persuade others. Finally, the elocutionary approach concentrated on delivery and style by providing strict rules for a speaker’s bodily actions such as gestures, facial expressions, tone, and pronunciation.
Overall, the Enlightenment Period served as a bridge between the past and the present of communication study, the old and the new school. During this period, people used many of the early approaches to further explore communication in ways that would ignite an explosion in the Communication field in the 20th Century. While we’ve quickly covered 2400 years of communication study, let’s look at the 20th century, which witnessed more advances in communication study than the previous 2400 years combined.
New School: Communication Study in the 20th Century
ssues such as persuasion, public speaking, political debate, preaching, letter writing, and education guided communication study in the early periods as these were the pressing social matters of the day. With the industrial revolution in full effect, major world changes took place that impacted the continuing advancement of communication study. We have seen more changes in the ways humans communicate, and communication study, in the past 100 years than in any other time in history. Rapid advances in technology, and the emergence of a “global village,” have provided almost limitless areas to study communication. In this half of the chapter, we examine the development of the modern field of Communication, demonstrating how it has developed into the departments of Communication that you may recognize on your campus today.
The Emergence of a Contemporary Academic Field
Think about the different departments and majors on your campus. What about the department of Communication. How did it get there? You may not know it, but academic departments like Communication are a relatively recent phenomenon in human history. While there is evidence of speech instruction in the U.S. as far back as the colonial period, 100 years ago there were only a few departments of Communication in U.S. colleges and universities (Delia, 1987). From 1890 to 1920, “the various aspects of oral communication were drawn together and integrated, under the common rubric of speech” and generally housed in departments of English (Gray, 1954, p. 422). Some universities moved to create specific academic departments of communication in the late 1800’s, such as De Pauw (1884), Earlham (1887), Cornell (1889), Michigan and Chicago (1892), and Ohio Wesleyan (1894), which led the way for the continued academic development of Communication study (Smith, 1954).
The first large-scale demand to create distinct departments of Communication came at the Public Speaking Conference of the New England and North Atlantic States in 1913 (Smith, p. 455). Here, faculty expressed the desire to separate from departments of English. The art and science of oral communication went in different directions than traditional areas of focus in English, and those with these interests wanted the resources and recognition that accompanied this field of study. Hamilton College was an early pioneer of Speech instruction in the U.S. and had a recognized department of Elocution and Rhetoric as early as 1841. But, it was not until the early 20th century that Communication saw the emergence of 7 M.A. programs and the granting of the first Ph.D.’s in the early 1920’s. By “1944 the United States Office of Education used its own survey of speech departments to assure the educational world that ‘the expressive arts have gained full recognition in college programs of study’” (Smith, p. 448).
As Communication scholars formed departments of Communication, they also organized themselves into associations that reflected the interests of the field. The first organization of Communication professionals was the National Association of Elocutionists, established in 1892 (Rarig & Greaves, 1954, p. 490), followed by The Eastern Public Speaking Conference formed in 1910. Within a year, over sixty secondary-school teachers of Speech attended a conference at Swarthmore (Smith, p. 423). Our current National Communication Association began during this time in 1914 as the National Association of Academic Teachers of Public Speaking, and became the Speech Communication Association in 1970. It wasn’t until 1997 that members voted to change it to its current name. As a result of the work of the early founders, a number of organizations are currently devoted to bringing together those interested in studying communication.
After 2400 years of study going in a variety of directions, the beginning of the 20th century showed the desire of communication teachers to formally organize and institutionalize the study of communication. These organizations have played a large part in determining how departments of Communication look and function on college campuses, including what curriculum is part of the field, and the latest in teaching strategies for Communication professors. To better understand the Communication department on your campus today, let’s examine some of the important events and people that shaped the study of communication during the 20th century.
From the mid 1800’s through the early part of the 20th century, significant changes occurred in politics, social life, education, commercialization, and technology creating the world of organizations, universities, colleges, and mass production that we know today. As a result of all of this change, new areas of communication research emerged to answer the relevant questions of the day presented by this onslaught of social changes. From 1900–1940, communication study focused on five primary areas that experienced rapid changes and advances: “(1) work on communication and political institutions, (2) research concerned with the role of communication in social life, (3) social-psychological analyses of communication, (4) studies of communication and education, and (5) commercially motivated research” (Delia, 1987, p. 25). It’s likely that many of these areas are represented in the Communication department at your campus.
This period brought many changes to the political landscape, with new technologies beginning to significantly alter the communication of political messages. When you think about our focus on politics, much of our assessment of the communication in this arena came from the work of scholars in the early 20th century. They focused on propaganda analysis, political themes in public communication (magazines, textbooks, etc.), and public opinion research that explored the opinions of society at large on major political and social issues. If you watch politics, you’re obviously familiar with political polls that try to determine people’s beliefs and political values. This line of work was influenced by the early works of Walter Lippman (1922) who is considered the father of public opinion analysis. Similarly, Harold Lasswell’s (1927) pioneering work on propaganda set the foundation for studying how mass communication influences the social conscious of large groups of people. All of us have been exposed to a barrage of public opinion polls and political messages in the media.
Understanding these may seem quite daunting to the average person. Yet, through the work of scholars such as Lippman and Lasswell, analysis of public opinion polls and propaganda have been able to provide incredible insight into the impacts of such communication. For example, according to a CNN poll in 2003, 68% of Americans thought the war in Iraq was a good thing. Five years later, only 36% of Americans now believe the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over. Public opinion polls and analysis of propaganda messages allow us to follow the sentiment of large groups of people.
During the early 20th century, society changed through urbanization, industrialization, and continued developments in mass media. As a result, there was a need to understand how these changes impacted human communication. A very influential group of scholars studied communication and social life at the Chicago School of Sociology. Herbert Blumer (1933), Charles H. Cooley (1902; 1909), John Dewey (1922; 1927), George Herbert Mead (1934), and Robert E. Park (1922; 1923; 1925) committed themselves to “scientific sociology” that focused on the “sensitivity to the interrelation of persons’ experiences and the social contexts of their lives” (Delia, 1987, p. 31). They focused on how people interacted; examined the effects of urbanization on peoples’ social lives; studied film and media institutions and their effects on culture; explored culture, conflict, and consensus; highlighted the effects of marketing and advertising; and researched interpersonal communication. This group of scholars, and their research interests, were pivotal in creating what you know as Communication departments because they moved the field from being solely humanistic (focused on public speaking performance and analysis), to social scientific (exploring the social impacts and realities of communication through scientific methods).
The third focus of communication inquiry during this time was the advancement of Social Psychology, which explored individual social behavior in communication contexts. If you have seen the Jacksass movies/show or the show Candid Camera, you’ve witnessed how the characters of these shows violate communication norms to get a reaction from others. Social Psychologists focused on issues such as communication norms and the impact of our communication in social contexts. In other words, where do we get ideas of “normal” communication behaviors and how does our communication impact social situations? Another area of focus in Social Psychology was the study of the effects of media on communication outcomes. A particular focus was movies. Movies developed rapidly as a source of entertainment for youth prior to World War I, and researchers wanted to understand what impact watching movies had on young people. It’s likely that you’ve heard debate and discussion about the potential harm of seeing violence in movies, television, and video games. Much of this research began with the Social Psychologists of the early 20th century and continues today as we discuss the impact of mass media on society, culture, relationships, and individuals.
The study of communication in education was the fourth important development in the field between 1900 and 1940. Do you have good professors? Do you have poor professors? What makes them good or poor? Think about your college classroom today. A great deal of the way it is organized and conducted can be traced back to early research in instructional communication. Early on, the possible impacts of every major new technology (radio, film, and television) on educational outcomes became a primary focus of this specialization. Many thought that these technologies would completely change how we received an education. Now, some people think that the personal computer will revolutionize classroom instruction. Instructional communication research in the early 1900’s through the present day seeks to discover the best communicative techniques for teaching.
The fifth important development in communication study during this period focused on commercialism and human communication. With an increase in national brands, marketing, and advertising, commercial organizations were interested in influencing consumer habits. During this period, people began to understand mass media’s ability to persuade (think advertising!). There were incredible financial implications for using mass media to sell products. These implications didn’t escape those who could profit from mass media, and prompted lines of research that examined the impacts of advertising and marketing on consumer behavior. Paul Lazarsfeld (1939; 1940; 1944; 1949) studied mass communication to understand its commercial implications and was an early pioneer in understanding persuasion and advertising. Examine ads on television or in magazines. What makes them effective or ineffective? What advertising messages are most likely to influence you to purchase a product? These sorts of questions began to be explored in the early part of the 20th century. This line of research is so powerful that Yankelovich Inc. estimates that the average urban American now sees or hears 5,000 advertisements a day. While this number may seem impossible, think of the radio, TV, movie, billboard, and internet advertisements you encounter everyday. In fact, one of your authors was astounded when he went into a public bathroom and there were advertisements above and IN the urinal!
While these early communication research areas actually emerged from other academic disciplines (sociology, psychology, anthropology, and politics), Communication scholars found it necessary to organize themselves to further advance the field. Continued changes in the world, including World War I and World War II, prompted even greater advances in Communication research and the development of the field from the 1940’s through the 1960’s.
World War II played a major role in shaping the direction of communication study during the 1940s. Two instrumental players in communication research during this era, Kurt Lewin (1936; 1941; 1947a; 1947b) and Carl Hovland et al. (1949; 1953; 1959) studied group dynamics and mass communication. Following World War II, scholars such as Lazarsfeld, Lasswell, Hovland, and Schramm wanted to bring more credibility and attention to their research. One approach they used to accomplish this was to call for Communication study to be its own field of research at universities. They began using the terms “mass communication” and “communication research” more frequently in their writings, which helped begin the process of distinguishing Communication research and departments from other fields such as political science, psychology, and sociology (Rogers, 1994). This served as the big push to create departments of Communication that you are familiar with today.
In 1949 Lazarsfeld and Stanton argued that, “the whole field of communications research should be covered simultaneously” (p. xi), which was an attempt to formalize communication study as a field that included not only the humanities, but the “social science of communication aimed at theory development” (Delia, 1987, p. 59). These Communication scholars began forming Communication into its own academic field by creating and adopting a vocabulary specific to the field, writing core subject matter into Communication textbooks, and agreeing to a relatively stable set of communication processes that could be taught in college and university classrooms. Of course, the continued formal organization of communication scholars we discussed earlier continued to help strengthen this move.
Another notable contributor to the development of the field during this time was Wilbur Schramm. Schramm is often credited as the first person to create university classes with “communication” in the title, author textbooks for Communication-specific courses, be awarded a Ph.D. in Communication, and have the title “Professor of Communication” at the University of Illinois (Rogers, 1994, p. 446-447). After World War II, Schramm moved to the University of Illinois and founded the Institute of Communications Research in 1947 and its sister institute at Stanford University in 1956. He is often credited as being the modern father of communication study. As a result of his work, departments and colleges of Communication and Speech began to form around the country, particularly in the mid-west. Schools in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Washington, and North Carolina began to form departments and/or colleges that included “communication” as part of their title. In fact, if you’re planning on getting a Ph.D. in Communication, it is very likely you will attend a school in the mid-west or east because of the early developments of departments in these regions. Now, departments of Speech, Communication, and Speech Communication exist on colleges and universities both nationally and internationally.
The 1950’s saw two areas of research develop that are still a major focus in our field today--research on voting and mass media (Lazarsfeld, Hadley, & Stanton, 1939; Lazarsfeld, Berelson, & Gaudet, 1944), and experimental studies on persuasion (Hovland, 1953; 1959). The move from mass media and political communication research in the early 1900’s to a more theoretical approach in the 1940’s and 50’s brought together two areas that make Communication study such an important academic field today--theory and practice. Research in the 40’s and 50’s was conducted using experimental and survey methods with an emphasis on generating theories of how and why we communicate. As the field began to grow and emerge, Delia states that it struggled with the following question: “Was the field to be interdisciplinary or autonomous; and if autonomous, on what terms? Communication study in the late 1940’s embraced divergent and contradictory attitudes that leave this question unresolved after  years” (p. 72).
Following World War II, other communication research focused on public speaking, instructional communication, communication anxiety, persuasion, group dynamics, and business communication. While the early 20th century saw major new approaches for studying communication, the 1960’s and 70’s saw renewed emphasis and focus on the works of those from the Classical Period. Thus, the 60’s and 70’s worked to bridge together the old and new school of Communication study for the first time. While scholars in the 60’s and 70’s reconsidered classical approaches, others such as Burke (1962; 1966) pushed the boundaries of rhetorical study. Rather than focusing on the speeches of “dead white guys,” Burke wanted to analyze a much broader scope of communication events including protest rhetoric, film, television, and radio (Delia, 1987, p. 81).
With this bridging of the old and new schools, Communication departments now have professors who study and teach classical rhetoric, contemporary rhetoric, empirical social science, and qualitative social science. As each era generated new research, previous knowledge laid the foundation for the innumerable challenges of studying communication in a rapidly changing technological, postmodern world. Since the 1970s, we have seen more technological and world changes than at any other time in history, guiding the ways in which we now study communication.
1970 to the Present Day
The emergence of the women’s, civil-rights, and anti-war movements in the 1960’s and 70’s reintroduced old social questions and concerns that had gone largely ignored by society. Fortunately, the field of Communication was progressive enough to take on the challenge of responding to these questions and concerns from its own perspective. Thus, the 1970’s saw a rise in feminist scholarship that contributed greatly to a field that has seen progressive and consistent development since 400 BCE by those not afraid to tackle the dominate social problems of the day.
Two pioneering organizations devoted to women’s scholarship in Communication are the Organization for the Study of Communication, Language, and Gender (OSCLG) founded in 1972, and the Organization for Research on Women and Communication (ORWAC) founded in 1977. Over the course of the next decade, women’s scholarship gained prominence in the various professional organizations devoted to teaching and researching communication. Feminist researchers like Donna Allen, Sandra A. Purnell, Sally Miller Gearhart, Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, Sonja K. Foss, Karen A. Foss and many others have been instrumental in the formation of a well-established and respected body of research that challenged the status quo of many of our theoretical assumptions and research practices established in past eras. (Their research will be discussed in more detail in Part II of the text.)
Through the 1980’s and 1990’s the field of Communication continued to grow. The field maintains strong teaching and research interests in areas such as rhetoric, mass communication, instructional communication, interpersonal communication, group communication, organizational communication, intercultural communication, gender communication, health communication, and many more.
Communication Study Today and Tomorrow
oday, many colleges and universities have Communication as part of their curriculum with departments titled with names like Speech, Speech Communication, and Communication. Likewise, our professional organizations are still active in growing and strengthening the field through teaching and research. Even with the increased recognition, there is still considerable growth, change, and movement taking place in communication study. Those involved in the field actively and openly debate and discuss various theoretical and methodological approaches for studying human communication. The study of human communication continues to be a wide and diverse field, with each area increasing our understanding of how humans communicate.
As history explains, changes in the world will continue to guide our approaches for understanding and researching communication. We have moved from an industrial age to an information age and have yet to fully understand the communicative implications of this shift. Advances in communication and information technologies are forever changing the ways we research and teach communication in our colleges and universities. While it is difficult to predict the specific areas and phenomena of study for future communication research, it is safe to assume that continued global and social changes will shape the development of our field.
ur history tells us that men and women from all cultures have been interested in observing and theorizing about the role of communication in multiple contexts—government, politics, law, religion, technology, and education. The Old School of communication study consisted of four major periods of intellectual development—Classical, Medieval, Renaissance, and Enlightenment. The Classical Period (500 BCE-400 CE) gave birth to seminal figures who set the foundation for communication study. Plato (428-348 BCE) introduced the concept and practice of the dialectic. Aristotle (384-322 BCE) defined rhetoric and three necessary proofs for persuasion. Cicero (106-43BCE) contributed the canons of rhetoric—invention, arrangement, expression/style, memory, and delivery.
As the church dominated public life in the Medieval Period (400-1400 CE), there was little intellectual development. St. Augustine is one who stands out for his continued development of rhetorical theory and its relationship to the church.
The Renaissance (1400-1600 CE) was a rebirth of sorts as Christine de Pisan (1365-1429) and Laura Cereta (1469-1499) continued the tradition of Aspasia and Pan Chao in securing educational opportunities for women. Ramus further developed the canons by combining style and delivery while Bacon continued his work following the classical tradition.
The final period, the Enlightenment (1600-1800), is characterized by intellectual trends—neoclassicism, the eclectic method of belletristic scholars, psychological/epistemological study of rhetoric, and the elocutionary approach.
The New School of communication study brought about more formal academic departments of Communication in the 1800-1900s. Along with these academic placements came the formation of professional organizations such as NCA and ICA that helped foster greater recognition and development of the study of communication on a national and international scale. As the U.S. and world was challenged by changes in technology, politics, and social life, Communication scholars sought to address them by focusing on five areas of research—political institutions, the role of communication in social life, social-psychological analyses of communication, communication and education, and commercially motivated research. Following WWI and WWII scholars continued to be motivated by global and social issues such as the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, and the anti-war movement. The trend continues as current scholars are driven by the prominent social and technological issues of the day such as technology and health care.
- What are the specializations of the Communication professors at your school?
- How did your professor get started in the field of Communication?
- If you wanted to study some type of communication phenomenon, what would it be and why?
- With the increasing emphasis on communication and information technologies, what kind of communication research do you think will happen in the future?
- Why is knowing our history valuable for understanding the discipline?
Key Terms and People
- audience analysis
- canons of rhetoric
- classical period
- eclectic method of belletristic scholars
- Francis Bacon
- Laura Cereta
- medieval period
- Petrus Ramus
- psychological/epistemological school of rhetoric
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