Cara A. Finnegan Ph.D.

Professor of Communication

Office Hours

  • ON RESEARCH LEAVE, 2016-17


Cara Finnegan is a 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 currently holds a Conrad Humanities Professorship 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 was published by University of Illinois Press in 2015.

During 2016-17, Finnegan will hold a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Fellowship in support of her current book project, American Presidents and the History of Photography from the Daguerreotype to the Digital Age.

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

  • National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Fellowship, 2016-17
  • Associate, Center for Advanced Study, 2015-16
  • 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
  • NCA Visual Communication Division Book Award for Making Photography Matter, 2015
  • 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


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