Personal profile

Research Interests

Professor Finnegan is a scholar of rhetoric, public address, and the history of photography. Her research and teaching explore the role of photography as a tool for public life. 

Academic Service

My administrative leadership roles at the University of Illinois have included directing the campus's general education course in Oral and Written Communication (CMN 111-112), running the Communication department's graduate program, serving as associate head of the Communication department, and working as interim associate dean for humanities and arts at the Graduate College. 

Personal profile

Cara Finnegan is a Professor in the Department of Communication. She holds affiliated appointments in the Center for Writing Studies, Gender and Women's Studies, and Art History. She was named a University Scholar in 2017.

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 examines the production, composition, circulation, and reception of photographs at specific moments in U.S. history. Her most recent book is Photographic Presidents: Making History from Daguerreotype to Digital  (University of Illinois Press, 2021). 

Finnegan's ideas about photography and visual politics have been featured in a variety of publications in the fields of Communication and U.S. History, as well as in popular media outlets such as the New York Times, CBS, and Vox. 


Honors & Awards

Distinguished Scholar Award, Rhetorical and Communication Theory division of the National Communication Association, 2021

Public Voices Fellow, The OpEd Project, 2019-20

University Scholar, 2017

National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Fellowship, 2016-17

NCA Rhetorical and Communication Theory Division Faculty Mentor Award, 2017

Winans-Wichelns Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Rhetoric and Public Address, 2016

Associate, Center for Advanced Study, 2015-16

NCA Visual Communication Division Book Award for Making Photography Matter, 2015

Conrad Humanities Professor, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, 2012-2017

William S. Vaughn Visiting Fellow, Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, Vanderbilt University, 2006-07

NCA Golden Monograph Award for "Recognizing Lincoln," 2006

Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, 2005-06

NCA Rhetorical and Communication Theory Division New Investigator Award, 2005

NCA Diamond Anniversary Book Award for Picturing Poverty, 2004


CMN 340: Visual Politics

CMN 396: Photography and Public Life

CMN 423: Rhetorical Criticism

CMN 450: Gender and Rhetoric

CMN 538: The Problem of the Public

CMN 538: Rhetoric and Visual Culture

CMN 538: Writing Rhetorical Histories

CMN 538: Rhetoric in Context

CMN 529: Writing in Graduate School

Office Address

3001 Lincoln Hall, MC-456
702 S. Wright Street
Urbana, IL 61801

Office Phone

Education/Academic qualification

Communication, Ph.D., Northwestern University

Award Date: Jun 18 1999

Communication, M.A., University of Maine

Award Date: May 15 1995

Communication and Journalism, B.A., University of St. Thomas, Minnesota

Award Date: Jun 1 1992


  • E11 America (General)
  • Great Depression
  • U.S. presidency
  • TR Photography
  • history of photography
  • contemporary photography
  • NE Print media
  • print culture
  • art
  • visual culture
  • P Language and Literature
  • rhetoric
  • communication
  • U.S. public address


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