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Our Department Name

Why does the department have the name that it now bears? Why was it changed? To answer these questions, we need to return to 1855, the year that Penn State was founded.

In 1855, the study of rhetoric was part of the English Department. As rhetoric began to establish a distinct identity, the division of Speech was created in 1929. Speech became a full-fledged department in 1940.

Nittany Lion ShrineIn 1973, the name was changed to Speech Communication, to reflect a change in the name of our national association, which had changed its name from the Speech Association of America to the Speech Communication Association. The change was made to acknowledge the emergence of “communication” as a partner with “speech,” which had been developing for many years. Both rhetorical scholars and social scientists who studied communication agreed that the study of rhetoric and communication included but was not confined to speech. In 2001, the department again changed its name—this time to Communication Arts & Sciences. This change reflected a more general development across the discipline, and a change in the name of our national association to the National Communication Association. Our present name was adopted to acknowledge Penn State’s abiding commitment to the study of communication from both humanistic and social scientific perspectives, rooted on the one hand in rhetorical studies and on the other in what has come to be called communication sciences. We have not abandoned our commitment to speech and to the crucial importance of face-to-face communication in public and private settings, but we have broadened our horizons over many decades of disciplinary leadership, and we acknowledge that society at large now recognizes “communication” as the more general term, and as reflecting the scope of our interests and commitments in teaching and research.

It is difficult to say how long the current name will continue to serve the department. But, we can be sure that at some point it too will be replaced by some other title that, at the time, seems to provide a more accurate expression of what the department is trying to achieve.