Historian Copeland took
twisting path to Elon


By Annette Randall
Journalism/Corporate Comm
major graduating in 2005

After graduating from Wake Forest University with a history degree, David Copeland worked for six months on archeological dig sites in historic Williamsburg, Va. But when that job ended, a trip to the unemployment office put Copeland, the A.J. Fletcher Professor of Communications, on an unlikely career path that eventually led to Elon University.

"I went into the unemployment office and said I wanted an exciting job," Copeland says. That request landed Copeland the position of sports editor at the Daily Advance in Elizabeth City, N.C. Though he was thrown into the position without much experience, Copeland says he learned in a trial by fire. "I basically used what I had been reading in newspapers for years and went from there," he says. "If you're learning as you go, you learn what to do and what not to do by making mistakes."

A love of teaching Copeland had been interested in teaching for years, and during his three years at the paper, he covered school board meetings. That re-ignited his desire, and he moved on to teach in North Carolina public schools in Edenton and Camden for the next eight years.

"But I wanted to do more," Copeland says. "I wanted to go back to school and learn more." Copeland went on to graduate school, earning a master's degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Copeland eventually ended up teaching at Emory & Henry College in Emory, Va. While there, he attended various conferences where he occasionally ran into Brad Hamm, associate dean of the School of Communications at Elon. At these meetings, Hamm and Copeland often discussed the interesting changes that were taking place in Elon's School of Communications. Then, as Emory & Henry looked to upgrade their program, its faculty looked at Elon as a model for their program. So when Hamm contacted Copeland about a teaching position at Elon, Copeland already had a good understanding of the department.

It was his first visit to the campus, however, that convinced Copeland Elon was the place for him. "I was just absolutely amazed by what I saw, maybe even intimidated," Copeland says about seeing Elon's beautiful campus and impressive facilities for the first time. "It was a really good move for me."

He says he realized Elon was a special place where the faculty and staff really care about education. So, Copeland and his wife, Robin, and their children, Hunter and Holley '03, moved back to North Carolina, and he began teaching at Elon in 2001.

In addition to teaching, Copeland manages to complete a staggering number of research and editorial projects. He says he is able to fit everything in with lots of time management, a skill he learned as he balanced a job, an assistantship and spending time with his family while in graduate school. "You have to set aside time," he says. "I stick to a fairly strict schedule."

While working on his master's degree, Copeland discovered that he enjoys researching early American journalism, religion and the media, and the history of freedom of expression in America.

"I started working with primary documents: pamphlets, books and letters to editors from the 17th century," he says. He then began looking at the colonial press and realized that some of the textbooks he was using in his classes were not accurate according to the primary documents he studied. This discovery prompted him to do more and more research.

"It was kind of like a possession telling me, 'You have to do this. You have to do this,'" Copeland says. "I like reading old newspapers. They're a great reflection of society, how it has been shaped, grown and developed, especially over the past 150 years."

Copeland's current projects include serving as editor for a book series titled" The Media and War," for which he also wrote a book on the French and Indian War and co-authored a book on the War of 1812. He is co-authoring a media history textbook, and he and Anthony Hatcher, associate professor of communications, just finished an introduction to a communications textbook.

Copeland is also preparing to start work on a book next year that will deal with the origins of ideas for freedom of expression in 16th century Europe and America before the revolution. He was recently honored with the inaugural Elon University School of Communications Excellence in Scholarship Award. To read more about it, click here.



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Last Modified:  4/02/04
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