2012—Barbie Zelizer

Photo of Barbie Zelizer
Raymond Williams Chair of Communication, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania

One of the foremost international scholars on memory and culture, Barbie Zelizer holds the Raymond Williams Chair of Communication in the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Zelizer’s research focuses on the cultural dimensions of journalism, and she explores in particular the areas of journalistic authority, collective memory, and journalistic images in crises and wars. A subset of her research agenda addresses the impact of disciplinary knowledge on scholarly inquiry.

Zelizer is an author or editor of sixteen books. Her books include About to Die: How News Images Move the Public (Oxford University Press 2010), Taking Journalism Seriously: News and the Academy (Sage Publications 2004), Remembering to Forget: Holocaust Memory through the Camera’s Eye (University of Chicago Press 1998), and Covering the Body: The Kennedy Assassination, the Media, and the Shaping of Collective Memory (University of Chicago Press 1992). Among her edited books are Making the University Matter (Routledge 2011), Journalism After September 11 (Routledge 2011), and Reporting War: Journalism in Wartime (Routledge 2004). In addition, she has published numerous peer-reviewed articles in leading journals in her field. Zelizer is the coeditor and founder of the journal Journalism: Theory, Practice, and Criticism and serves on the editorial board of several book series and journals. She is also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, The Nation, and PBS Newshour.

Zelizer’s scholarship on the media portrayal of violence, cruelty, and death is of interest not only to journalists, but to cultural critics concerned with the impact of visual culture. Her work has challenged scholars in diverse disciplines to explore the authority of journalism, the power of the image, and our understanding of war, the Holocaust, and the Kennedy assassination. For instance, in About to Die, Zelizer offers an insightful look at the way U.S. journalism has presented news pictures showing impending death. This portrayal raises such questions as which deaths should be shown, how to show them, and for how long. Zelizer argues that images prompt a different relationship with the news, what she calls the “as if” of news relay rather than journalism’s “as is” record of reality. In Remembering to Forget, she shows how iconic photos of the liberation of Nazi camps taken at the end of World War II became the fundamental basis of our understanding of the Holocaust. Zelizer suggests that the widespread circulation of these photos has led to a “representation without substance” and has contributed to a dulling of our response to more recent occurrences of genocide.

Among her numerous honors and awards, Professor Zelizer has received the Distinguished Scholars Award from the National Communication Association (2011); the James Tankard Book Award for About to Die from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (2011); the Best Book Award for Remembering to Forget from the International Communication Association (2000); and the Nichols-Ehninger Award for Communication and Rhetorical Theory from the Speech Communication Association (1990).