Cara A. Finnegan Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Communication

Office Hours

  • M 3-4 pm; Th 3:30-4:30 pm; by appt.


Professor Finnegan is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication. She joined the university in 1999 after completing her Ph.D. at Northwestern University. She holds affiliated appointments in the Center for Writing Studies, Gender and Women's Studies, and Art History. She was recently named a Conrad Humanities Professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Finnegan's research examines the role of photography as a tool for public life. Photographs are powerful forms of communication: they visualize social issues, make visible those who are often invisible, and foster or limit bonds of identification. Her book-length projects are best described as rhetorical histories of photography, in that she variously examines the production, composition, circulation, and reception of photographs at specific moments in U.S. history. Her most recent book, Making Photography Matter: A Viewer's History from the Civil War to the Great Depression will be published by University of Illinois Press in 2015. Recent essays take up contemporary topics such as the role of fine art in the visual rhetoric of the Obama White House.

Specializations / Research Interest(s)

  • visual rhetoric; rhetorical criticism; visual politics of public address; photography; contemporary rhetorical theory; public sphere theory; U.S. rhetorical history


  • Ph.D. Northwestern University, 1999
  • M.A. University of Maine, 1995
  • B.A. University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN, 1992

Distinctions / Awards

  • Conrad Humanities Professor, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, 2012-2017
  • NCA Diamond Anniversary Book Award for Picturing Poverty, 2004
  • NCA Golden Monograph Award for "Recognizing Lincoln," 2006
  • William S. Vaughn Visiting Fellow, Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, Vanderbilt University, 2006-07
  • Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, 2005-06
  • NCA Rhetorical and Communication Theory Division New Investigator Award, 2005

External URLs


  • CMN 396: Photography and Public Life (Fall 2014)
  • CMN 423: Rhetorical Criticism (Fall 2014)
  • CMN 538: The Problem of the Public (Spring 2015)
  • CMN 450: Gender and Rhetoric (Spring 2015)
  • CMN 538: Rhetoric and Visual Culture
  • CMN 340: Visual Politics
  • CMN 538: Writing Rhetorical Histories