Participant Info

First Name
Last Name
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Website URL
history of photography, documentary, presidential photography, U.S. media history, New Deal arts and culture, politics of art, photojournalism, digital photography, social media photography, rhetoric, speech, visual communication
Additional Contact Information

Personal Info

About Me

Cara Finnegan studies the role of photography in U.S. public life. She is Professor of Communication and University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she teaches and does research in the history of photography, rhetoric, media, and political communication. Her current book project, From Daguerreotype to Digital Revolution: A History of Photography as told through Five Presidents, was featured at the 2015 Chicago Humanities Festival and supported by a 2016-17 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Her most recent book, Making Photography Matter: A Viewer’s History from the Civil War to the Great Depression (University of Illinois Press, 2015), won the 2016 Winans-Wichelns Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Rhetoric and Public Address from the National Communication Association. She is also the author of the award-winning Picturing Poverty: Print Culture and FSA Photographs (Smithsonian, 2003). Finnegan’s ideas about photography have been featured in a variety of publications in the fields of Communication and American History, as well as in popular media outlets such as CBS, Chicago Public Radio, the BBC, Vox, USA Today, and Reuters. Finnegan is co-host of Chatting the Pictures, a weekly webcast analyzing news photos that is produced by the nonprofit media literacy site Reading the Pictures. A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, Finnegan received her Ph.D. from Northwestern University and has worked at the University of Illinois since 1999.

Recent Publications

Cara A. Finnegan, Making Photography Matter: A Viewer’s History from the Civil War to the Great Depression (University of Illinois Press, 2015)

Cara A. Finnegan, Picturing Poverty: Print Culture and FSA Photographs (Smithsonian Books, 2003)

Cara A. Finnegan, “The Critic as Curator.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Sept. 2018, in press.

Cara A. Finnegan, “Slave Photographs in Lincoln.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs, 18.1 (2015): 129-34.

Cara A. Finnegan and Anita J. Mixon, “Art Controversy in the Obama White House: Performing Tensions of Race in the Visual Politics of the Presidency.” Presidential Studies Quarterly, 44.2 (June 2014): 244-66.

Cara A. Finnegan, “Picturing Presidents: Visual Politics Inside the Obama White House.” In The Rhetoric of Heroic Expectations: Establishing the Obama Presidency, eds. Jennifer Mercieca and Justin Vaughn (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2014), 209-34.


Media Coverage
Chatting the Pictures (, Vox, Boston Globe, USA Today, BBC, CBS, Chicago Public Radio, Le Monde
Country Focus
United States
Expertise by Geography
North America, United States
Expertise by Chronology
19th century, Early Modern, Modern, 20th century, 21st century
Expertise by Topic
American Civil War, American Presidents, Art & Architectural History, Libraries & Archives, Material Culture, Museums, Pedagogy, Politics, Public History