History of the Department

Comm Timeline

The Department of Communication Studies has a rich and varied history, dating back to its roots in the Department of Elocution and Oratory founded in 1892 and the Department of Rhetoric established in 1903. The Department of Rhetoric then incorporated Journalism in 1921, and there was a separate Speech Department, which in the 1920s included theater. By the 1950s, the Speech Department offered training in radio/television production and theory, rhetoric and public address, oral interpretation, speech therapy and theater. In the 1970s the department was renamed Speech Communication and Theatre. The Department of Communication came into existence in 1979 as the result of a merger between the Department of Journalism and the speech component of the Department of Speech Communication and Theatre. This merger represented the culmination of almost a decade of discussion and was part of a major reorganization of several units. Between 1993 and 1995, the department underwent a review and was renamed Communication Studies; journalism was discontinued, a decision that was controversial, as was speech, and in 1993 a separate department of Film and Video, now Screen Arts and Cultures, was established and took over much of the television and film production work that had been taught in Speech. Communication Studies began a rebuilding process in 1996 and has become a highly prestigious leader in teaching and research on the academic study of the mass media and emerging media.

Though the department is now strong and thriving, and home to one of the most sought-after concentrations in LSA, this complex evolution has meant that some alumni, especially those who were enrolled when we were the Department of Speech, or Speech Communication and Theatre, or when a journalism degree was offered, now wonder what their connection is to a department called “Communication Studies.” While it is true that the department no longer offers courses of study in rhetoric and public address, or journalism, or radio and television production, the spirit of studying the absolute centrality of communication to the life of everyday people and the nation remains constant between the previous incarnations of the department and who we are today. Our faculty emphasize journalism studies and teach about and study the role of the press in maintaining democratic institutions. Some faculty study the rhetoric and images used in the news, entertainment programming and, now, new media, and others are deeply engaged with the history, practices, and impact of radio and television. Our students complete internships at newspapers, radio and television stations, public relations and marketing firms, and advertising agencies.

Despite changes in the department’s name and curriculum over the years, we hope to emphasize the continuities between past and present. We also hope you will contact us, so we can learn what you’re doing and hear about your recent accomplishments. Our blog features an 'Alumni and Friends' section so we can connect our alumni to each other and to current students. So, whenever you graduated from this department, let us hear from you and let’s continue to build bridges between the past, the present and the future to enhance the Michigan Difference. Go Blue!