What I Learned In: History of Journalism

By Kari Robinson (@karieva)

For my last semester of undergraduate work at UW-Oshkosh, I really only needed one class. Rather than take three random classes to fill up the rest of my schedule, I figured I’d be a huge j-nerd. This is how I ended up in History of Journalism, taught by Dr. Tim Gleason.

We started the semester off with a solid base of learning about the fundamentals of historical research.  After discussing research procedures and techniques we got into the origins of mass communication. From the colonial press through printing during the Revolutionary and Civil wars, we learned how journalism helped shape American history. We learned about the changes brought on by the Industrial Revolution and the even bigger changes that came with the advent of radio and television. We also discussed magazines, advertising and public relations.

Dr. Gleason used videos, photos and music for every topic to make historical events relatable. One memorable example was when Dr. Gleason showed a video of the Andrews Sisters singing group from WWII and then compared it to more recent videos by the Puppini Sisters and Christina Aguilera. It was interesting to see new media with media from the era that inspired it.



There were no projects in the class; instead we were graded on three take-home exams based on lecture and readings and four papers. The papers led to an interesting research adventure: microfilm. I had only ever read about microfilm in young adult novels based in the ‘80s and didn’t imagine that using it would be terribly difficult. I was mistaken.

The microfilm readers in Polk Library are hulking, intimidating apparatuses across from a long row of filing cabinets filled with rolls of old newspapers transposed on film. The hassle of figuring out how to use them was rewarded by a fascinating look at newspapers from ye olden days.

I didn’t need History of Journalism to graduate, but I’m glad that I took the class. From it I gained valuable insight into the path American journalism has taken over the course of the last 400 years to what it is today. It was interesting to learn what has changed but even more so to learn which principles have stayed the same.


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