Cara Finnegan is a writer, teacher, and historian of photography. Her books and essays explore the role of photography as a tool for public life. Her latest book is Making Photography Matter: A Viewer's History from the Civil War to the Great Depression (University of Illinois Press, 2015), which won the National Communication Association's 2016 Winans-Wichelns Memorial Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Rhetoric and Public Address.
Finnegan's ideas about photography 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 CBS, the New York Times, the BBC, Chicago Public Radio, Vox, and Reuters. She is also affiliated with Reading the Pictures, a non-profit site dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media imagery. Finnegan and Reading the Pictures publisher Michael Shaw co-host Chatting the Pictures, a weekly webcast analyzing key news photos of the week. Since 2008, she has also moderated fifteen editions of the Reading the Pictures Salon, a real-time, online discussion where photojournalists, political commentators, and academics explore how photography frames contemporary social and political issues.
A native of Saint Paul, Minnesota, Finnegan received her B.A. from the University of St. Thomas in 1992, her M.A. from the University of Maine in 1995, and her Ph.D. from Northwestern University in 1999. A member of the faculty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign since 1999, she is currently Professor and Associate Head in the Department of Communication. She was named a University Scholar in 2017 and holds affiliated appointments in Art History, Gender and Women's Studies, and the Center for Writing Studies.
In 2019-2020, Finnegan will join 19 of her University of Illinois system colleagues as an inaugural Public Voices Fellow. The program is designed to expand the public reach of faculty expertise and scholarly research.
Finnegan is currently completing her latest book project, Daguerreotype to Digital: A History of Photography as Told Through Five Presidents.
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