YouTube series by historians reveals complicated & intermingled past, provides context to current moment

Donald Trump may be running an unconventional Presidential campaign by relying on the media to spread his message. But a new video series by two historians on YouTube aims to show that the media’s outsized role in Presidential elections is anything but new.

The videos, produced by historians Kathryn Cramer Brownell and Jason Steinhauer, with support from Purdue University’s College of Liberal Arts, show how Thomas Jefferson, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy all manipulated media, and new technologies of their day, to sway popular opinion and get elected. Relying on new research by political and presidential historians, the videos use illustrations and humor to reveal a surprising and enlightening story that provides important context for the 2016 election. The videos even contain footnotes to further resources.

The videos are part of a larger effort by Brownell, Steinhauer and many others to promote innovative and creative ways to share historical scholarship with the public. The initiative, so-called “History Communication” or “History Communicators,” unites historians, journalists and media scholars interested in utilizing new communications tools to distribute the large amount of historical scholarship created inside the academy that does not often reach a general audience.

The new video series comprises three 3-minute segments that examine significant turning points in the use of media in American elections:

“Newspapers and Elections: The Election of 1800 & The Birth of Modern Presidential Politics” looks at how Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both used newspapers loyal to their ideas to attack each other and rally voters. Historians now see the election of 1800 as the birth of modern presidential politics.

“Public Relations and Elections: William McKinley & The Origins of Professionalized PR” examines the significance of President William McKinley in ushering in the use of photography, film and modern PR techniques to win the White House and dictate public opinion. McKinley introduced the precursor to the modern-day press release.

“Television and Elections: Eisenhower, JFK & The Makings of the Celebrity President” shows how television has been integral to presidential politics since the 1950s. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first candidate to use television to appeal directly to voters. This helped him get elected, and was a strategy closely replicated by President John F. Kennedy.

The videos were recently launched on YouTube and social media. Additional contributors to the project include Charisse L’Pree, assistant professor of communications at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. History Communication has a website with more information and resources for historians and history-lovers:

About History Communication

History Communication is a movement happening within the discipline of history. Historians recognize that traditional scholarly communication channels (e.g., monographs, academic articles) have limited reach, appeal, and impact among non-experts.

History Communication and History Communicators represent (1) the coalescing of a community of historians, journalists, media professionals and others who communicate historical scholarship to non-experts, (2) training the next generation of historians to communicate using digital and interactive media, and (3) ensuring that the ongoing work of historians contributes to public discourse by reaching students, teachers, policymakers and audiences in innovative new ways.

For more on History Communication, visit, and follow history communicators on Twitter (, Facebook ( and Instagram (



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