If you consult recent headlines, the news media is in crisis, and the problems are manifold: disruptive changes to media technology, the spread of misleading news, and anonymous harassment of public figures are causing serious concerns about the quality and trajectory of our democracy and the place of the news media in it. At the same time, these phenomena are not new—technological disruption, the spread of rumor and falsehood, and coordinated harassment have been recurring features in the history of American media and democracy.

How does the present moment, dominated by concerns over the rise of platforms, the prevalence of disinformation, and changes to the economic models of public interest journalism, compare to previous moments of technological and political upheaval? Which developments have echoes in the past, and which concerns are truly novel?

To support research that places current developments in broader historical context, the Media & Democracy program at the Social Science Research Council convened a research development workshop in Brooklyn, NY on May 16–17, 2019. The workshop invited scholars from the social sciences and humanities to reflect on the emergence of print, radio, film, and photography, and ask how then-new media technologies were utilized for political gain, how they mobilized new political actors, and how new norms were established to reign in their most extreme effects.

The workshop was complemented by a plenary roundtable event hosted at the Brooklyn Historical Society, featuring a discussion between Andie Tucher (Columbia University), Kim Gallon (Purdue University), and Karen Hunter (The Karen Hunter Show). The panel was moderated by Kathryn Brownell (Purdue University).

Media & Democracy research development workshops give participants the opportunity to receive in-depth feedback from their peers on in-progress research, to give feedback to other workshop participants, and to meet fellow scholars working on similar topics from across disciplines. Learn more about past workshops and current opportunities on our Research Workshops page.


Kathryn Brownell
Associate Professor of History
Purdue University

Kim Gallon
Assistant Professor of History
Purdue University


Andie Tucher
Professor of Journalism & Director, PhD Program
Columbia University
Paper: “This Will Change Everything”

Ben Epstein
Associate Professor of Political Science
DePaul University
Paper: “The Stabilizing Window is Closing: How the History of Media Regulation Can Shape the Future of the Internet”

Chris Cimaglio
Post-Doctoral Fellow
Carthage College
Paper: “Fake News on the Popular Front: Falsehood, Media, and US Left-Liberal Politics in the 1930s and 1940s”

Jennifer Petersen
Associate Professor of Media Studies
University of Virginia
Paper: “Searching for Free Speech: Media History and the Current Debate over Search Engine Regulation”

Jordan Taylor
PhD Candidate
Indiana University, Bloomington
Paper: “Arresting This Torrent of Error: Information Polarization and False News in Revolutionary America, 1765–1800”

Kathy Feeley
Professor of History
University of Redlands
Paper: “Vultures of Hollywood: Gender, Melodrama, and Defining the ‘Press’ in the Hollywood Women’s Press Club, 1928-1941”

Libby Lewis
Assistant Professor of Pan-African Studies
California State University, Los Angeles
Paper: “The Electronic Ecosystem of Hate”

Martin L. Johnson
Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Paper: “Motion Pictures and Democracy: Modeling the Picture Show and the Creation of Educational Film”

Mark Schmeller
Associate Professor of History
Syracuse University
Paper: “Popular Excitements and the Paranoid Style: The Anti-Masonic Movement Reconsidered”

Nathaniel Brennan
PhD Candidate
New York University
Paper: “Harold Lasswell Goes to the Movies: Film Studies as Propaganda and Communications Intelligence at the Library of Congress, 1939-1942”

Nicole Hemmer
Assistant Professor in Presidential Studies
University of Virginia
Paper: “Beyond Echo Chambers and Media Silos: The Mainstream Origins of Conservative Media”