The academic myths that studying the media is for communications scholars and that history is all about dead white males were put to rest yesterday during a lecture by History Professor Barbara Savage. For more than an hour, Penn's leading media history scholar explained to about 30 students how African-American radio programs brought the important issue of racial injustice into American living rooms and public policy debates in the 1940s. The speech was the third in a series of forums sponsored by the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, which aims to introduce students to Penn professors' cutting-edge research. "The study of media is vital to the study of 20th century history," Savage said. "Just as the Gulf War became a television war, World War II was a radio war." Throughout the talk, Savage noted how studying both the message and the medium were important for placing ideas and events in historical context. In particular, she played clips from the a 1940s radio show called Freedom People, produced "by African Americans, for African Americans," and presented the historical and cultural contributions of blacks to a national audience. She asked members of the audience to consider how the radio broadcast "made race visible" and influenced the important public policy issues of the times, such as segregation in the military and society. But many students in the audience seemed to appreciate hearing about the frustrations and excitement Savage experienced while researching the topic of her speech, which evolved from a graduate school paper into her first book, Broadcasting Freedom. "The work itself is not unlike detective work or investigative reporting," Savage explained. "One thing led to another, one question led to another." She pointed out that the use of media such as radio required applying a number of different skills to analyze not only the content but how it was interpreted. "I could read a show in script form, but it was a totally different experience hearing it," she said. Most of the students said they were inspired by Savage's innovative work and thought the CURF forums were a great way to bring students and faculty together. "I really liked how [Savage] used the media as a lens for studying history," Wharton junior Aubrey Wise said. "Doing research based on audio documentation was pretty interesting." The CURF lecture series will host another event on April 19, when Marketing Professor Peter Fader will discuss his research on the Internet, focusing on "Patterns in CyberShopping."Comments powered by Disqus
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