In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Wilbur Schramm

  • Introduction
  • Biographical Works

Communication Wilbur Schramm
Emile McAnany
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0190


The name of Wilbur Schramm, an American researcher in the 20th century (b. 1907–d. 1987), is often connected with the creation of the general field of communication studies in the United States and later globally. As university departments and institutes emerged in the United States and elsewhere and as the various communication media have become central for much of daily life as we know it, the origin of research and theory on communication has also grown. Communication as a field and a discipline grew within American academic/university structures. Its history as well as its standing with the traditional social sciences (anthropology, economics, political science, psychology, and sociology) emerged in Europe toward the end of the 19th century. In many ways Schramm was far from the founder of the field as the study of journalism and rhetoric or public address in the United States had long preceded his establishment of the first graduate program in communication research at the University of Illinois in 1948. But Schramm tried to generalize the idea of communication as a field of study that would merge mediated and interpersonal communication in his vision of the field. Whether he was personally responsible for the rapid growth of university study and massive research after mid-century in the United States and globally is not reasonable, but his published work and the various research institutes he founded certainly influenced subsequent growth of the communication field. He deserves study as someone who envisioned the future of communication study at a critical flexing point in its history.

Biographical Works

Despite Schramm’s centrality in creating the modern field of communication, there is no full-length biography. His publishing in the field from 1946 until his death in 1987 was both voluminous and important to the field’s growth from 1948 to 1973. He founded two programs in communication at two leading US universities, the University of Illinois and Stanford University, that promoted research and graduate teaching. Despite the lack of a definitive biography, there are some biographical accounts that define his importance to the general field. Cartier 1988 is an in-depth account of Schramm’s career up to 1947 when he went to Illinois, but it does not deal with his contribution to communication in later years. McAnany 1988 is an obituary of Schramm and begins to delineate his contributions. Lerner and Nelson 1977 provides some brief reflections on his career by family and close associates. Rogers 1994 argues that Schramm was the founder of communication studies, but the large book contains only two chapters on him. Chaffee and Rogers 1997b is Schramm’s own last effort to give his version of communication study’s beginnings; the manuscript was edited by Chaffee and Rogers who added two chapters arguing for Schramm as founder. McAnany 2014 gives an account of Schramm’s role in development communication and social change.

  • Cartier, Jaqueline. 1988. Wilbur Schramm and the beginnings of communication theory: A history of ideas. PhD diss., Univ. of Iowa.

    This dissertation is the most thoroughly documented research on Schramm, especially on the early years and to the end of his period at the University of Iowa. The author conducted many interviews with Schramm and others in doing this work.

  • Chaffee, Steven, and Everett Rogers. 1997a. The institutionalization of advanced communication study in American universities. In The beginnings of communication studies in America: A personal memoir. By Wilbur Schramm and edited by Steven Chaffee and Everett Rogers, 154–180. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    In their second chapter, Chaffee and Rogers discuss how Schramm worked through research institutes that he founded at Illinois, Stanford, and Hawaii to develop the new field, making available first drafts of research that would later be published.

  • Chaffee, Steven, and Everett Rogers, eds. 1997b. The beginnings of communication studies in America: A personal memoir. By Wilbur Schramm. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    Schramm gives a more personalized account of what he had often repeated about Paul Lazarsfeld, Carl Hovland, Harold Laswell, and Kurt Lewin as founding fathers. Chaffee and Rogers edited Schramm’s manuscript and add two chapters arguing for Schramm as the real founder of the field.

  • Lerner, Daniel, and Lyle Nelson, eds. 1977. Communication research—a half-century appraisal. Honolulu: Univ. of Hawaii Press.

    Editors were friends of Schramm in a tribute for his seventieth birthday. Among academic chapters some brief comments by his wife and colleagues were added that helps to create a picture of his life until 1977. These brief comments give rare first-hand accounts that otherwise are not available in print.

  • McAnany, Emile. 1988. Wilbur Schramm, 1907–1987: Roots of the past, seeds of the present. Journal of Communication 38.4: 109–122.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1988.tb02073.x

    This article was published shortly after Schramm’s death by one of his last doctoral students at Stanford. It begins to delineate the outlines of his legacy.

  • McAnany, Emile. 2014. Wilbur Schramm: Beginnings of the “communication” field. Communication Research Trends 33.4: 3–16.

    Schramm made significant contributions to the growth of the field through the research institutes he founded, the books he wrote for departments that began to adopt the communication name, and his broad range of interests.

  • Rogers, Everett. 1994. A history of communication study: A biographical approach. New York: Free Press.

    This book covers not only Schramm (chapters 1 and 12) but also a list of European and American predecessors to the founding of communication study in 1948. Rogers provides chapters on the many early scholars on communication prior to the formal founding of communication as a separate field. These contributions were from the social sciences, engineering, and history.

  • Rogers, Everett, and Stephen Chaffee. 1997. Wilbur Schramm: The founder. In The beginnings of communication study in America: A personal memoir. By Wilbur Schramm and edited by Steven Chaffee and Everett Rogers, 125–153. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    The chapter is a good summary of his professional achievements. It details how Schramm worked through journalism departments to move some in this field toward communication study.

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