The News Media and the Making of America, 1730-1865



2015 NEH Summer Institute For K-12 Educators

This exhibition is an outgrowth of a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for School Teachers held at the American Antiquarian Society (AAS) in the summer of 2015 and codirected by David Paul Nord, professor emeritus at Indiana University, and James David Moran, director of outreach at AAS. For two weeks, twenty-five K-12 teachers from all over the country convened in Worcester for an intensive institute—also called The News Media and the Making of America, 1730-1865—that featured lectures and discussions with scholars, as well as hands-on workshops with original material from the AAS collections. Many of the items used in the archival workshops are included in this exhibition.

In this institute we sought to explore the function of news and public information in the community life of America, from the colonial period through the Civil War. This included a variety of community types, as well as 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. The aim was 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 explored how news and public information—in all their various forms—are connected to civic engagement and how media fit into the public and private lives of the American people.

The institute, and this exhibition, did not intend to be comprehensive or exhaustive about the history of the news media in America from 1730 to 1865, but rather to provide a broad overview of trends and developments and a sampling of historical materials representative of such from the AAS collections. We tried to include geographic diversity in the materials wherever possible, though this was more difficult to do with certain topics where our holdings are not as extensive. (Although our holdings are national in scope, our manuscript collection in particular, for example, is largely focused on New England.) We also slightly reorganized the structure of the course when building this exhibition to better suit an online platform.

The production of this exhibition was truly collaborative. It was curated by David Nord, James Moran, and Kayla Haveles Hopper, outreach coordinator at AAS, and features the work of several institute participants. Special thanks to those institute participants who contributed to this exhibition through projects completed during the program: Beth Banning, Timothy Beirne, Josiah Burden, Abby Church, Philip Crossman, Kristine Diano, Charlene Diaz, Paul Flaherty, Brittany Lare, Kathleen Moylan, Jeffrey Natoli, Tanya Pastor, Gwyn Reece, Andrew Swan, and Howard Wilf.

The "Related Videos" section of this exhibition was created as part of a second NEH Summer Institute for K-12 Educators offered by the American Antiquarian Society virtually in the summer of 2021. These films were produced by James Moran and filmed and edited by Nathan Fiske, photographer and media producer at AAS.

We would like to extend special thanks to the National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent agency of the United States government, for the funding to host the institutes and build the exhibition. 

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.