Michael Barberich

FDR's Fireside Chats

Broadly stated, my research interests are with public discourse, mass media and public policy. I have been concerned with identifying grammars of arguments that supported national policy initiatives and a national definition of the public interest in the United States during the first half of the twentieth century. Because these discourses were disseminated through emerging electronic media technologies, this historical and textual analysis includes an interest in the political function and uses of mass media as well as the invention of public policy and regulation for electronic media.

Although my work has centered on political discourse, through the process of incorporating these interests into my classes, I came to realize that similar frameworks for media use and public discourse were being used by corporate America. I have become interested in corporate uses of public discourse and media to define or influence public policy as well as manage their public image. There are numerous examples in many areas of public concern; however, the confused appropriation of public and private interests in current telecommunications policy has led to fractured and ineffective outcomes. My interests lie with not only the arguments brought to bear upon current circumstances but also with the continuity and evolution of public and private arguments over telecommunications policy. These interests are the beginning of a project.

My future research will continue the study of rhetorical practices of public memory and their mediation through communicative technology. How a past is called forth, disseminated and experienced is but one of the many questions new technologies pose to the traditional role of rhetoric as a practice which shapes public action. The serialized experience of listening to the radio that provided the means for forming a sense of national community in the 1930s offers a model for this kind of research.

My current project studies FDR's Fireside Chats, uncovering the use of public memory to forge and maintain a national community to confront the Depression and the War. The Fireside Chats demonstrate the use of communicative technology for the creation of public consensus and community. The study is significant because it illuminates the rhetorical practices that forged a grammar of public argument at an historical moment when national community was at first a real possibility.