Cara A. Finnegan

 Cara Finnegan

Contact Information

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

Office Hours

  • Fall 2019 M 2-4:30 and by appointment
Associate Head, Professor
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Additional Campus Affiliations


Cara Finnegan is a Professor in the Department of Communication. She joined the university in 1999 after completing her Ph.D. at Northwestern University. 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 variously examines the production, composition, circulation, and reception of photographs at specific moments in U.S. history. Her most recent book, Making Photography Matter: A Viewer's History from the Civil War to the Great Depression was published by University of Illinois Press in 2015. She is currently completing a book on the history of photography and the U.S. presidency, which will be out in late 2020 or early 2021.

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 the New York Times, CBS, and Vox. 

During the 2019-20 academic year, Finnegan will be a member of the University of Illinois system's inaugural class of Public Voices Fellows. This innovative program, offered in collaboration with the OpEd Project, is designed to expand the public reach of faculty research and expertise.

Research Interests

  • visual rhetoric; rhetorical criticism; U.S. public address; photography; contemporary rhetorical theory; public sphere theory; U.S. rhetorical history


  • Ph.D. Northwestern University, 1999
  • M.A. University of Maine, 1995
  • B.A. University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN, 1992

Distinctions / Awards

  • University Scholar, 2017
  • National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Fellowship, 2016-17
  • NCA Diamond Anniversary Book Award for Picturing Poverty, 2004
  • NCA Golden Monograph Award for "Recognizing Lincoln," 2006
  • Conrad Humanities Professor, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, 2012-2017
  • 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
  • Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, 2005-06
  • William S. Vaughn Visiting Fellow, Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, Vanderbilt University, 2006-07
  • NCA Rhetorical and Communication Theory Division New Investigator Award, 2005


  • CMN 396: Photography and Public Life
  • CMN 423: Rhetorical Criticism
  • CMN 538: The Problem of the Public
  • CMN 450: Gender and Rhetoric
  • CMN 538: Rhetoric and Visual Culture
  • CMN 340: Visual Politics
  • CMN 538: Writing Rhetorical Histories
  • CMN 538: Rhetoric in Context
  • CMN 529: Writing in Graduate School

In The News

  • The University of Illinois Library celebrates the tenure and promotion of faculty by giving them the opportunity to select a book to be added to the Library collection in their honor.