Copeland delivers
Distinguished Scholar Lecture

David Copeland, A.J. Fletcher Professor of Communications, presented the Distinguished Scholar lecture Tuesday, April 10 in the LaRose Digital Theatre on campus.

Copeland’s lecture, titled “Of Moon Men, Media, and What We Believe,” examined the influence of newspapers in America during the 19th century. The number of newspapers in the country grew from about 40 in 1783 to approximately 1,200 in 1833, Copeland said. Newspapers wielded great influence during the period, and “it was almost impossible to find a newspaper that didn’t actively support a political party or some cause,” Copeland said.

In 1833, the New York Sun broke many of the rules of newspaper publication. The paper was printed in a smaller format than other papers and took no stance on political issues. It was sold for a penny on the streets, and soon surpassed the circulation of the city’s other newspapers.

descriptionIn August 1833, the Sun published a series of articles, supposedly reprinted from the Edinburgh Journal of Science, that claimed English astronomer John Herschel had discovered vegetation, animals and human beings on the moon. Readers anxiously awaited the next day’s paper “in an anticipation that bordered on frenzy,” Copeland said.

The Sun’s cover was blown, however, when one of its senior reporters, Richard Adams Locke, revealed to a friend who was a reporter at a rival paper that the stories were not true.

While it’s easy for people today to see that the stories were a hoax, Copeland reminded the audience that in 1835, the idea that life existed on the moon and elsewhere in the solar system “(was) almost uniformly accepted as fact,” because of newspapers. He noted that newspapers for years had written stories that claimed with absolute certainty that life existed on the moon.

“What people believed was a joint effort in our quest for knowledge and its dissemination through the media,” Copeland said.

Ironically, while there was a brief backlash against the Sun for its stories, readers soon returned to the paper, and publisher Benjamin Day sold the paper a few years later for $38,000, a large sum of money in that time.

Copeland has earned respect for the quality of his scholarship work and his proficiency as a teacher. Since coming to Elon in 2001, he has published six books, with two more in press. He has written numerous book chapters and served as editor for several highly-acclaimed publications. Copeland was series editor for the 8-volume “Greenwood Library of American War Reporting,” in 2005 and “Debating Historical Issues in Newspapers of the Time,” in 2003. Currently, Copeland is serving as editor of a series of media history books by Peter Lang Publishers and as chief editor of the Thomson Gale 19th-Century Newspaper Digitization Project.

Copeland has also written numerous book chapters and research papers and he is a frequent panelist and lecturer at professional meetings and symposia. He serves on the editorial board of Journalism History. He has also served on the board of the American Journalism Historians Association and served as the organization’s president in 2000-2001. At Elon he has chaired the Evaluation of Teaching subcommittee and the Teacher-Scholar committee and served as a member of the Academic Council and the Curriculum Revision committee in the School of Communications.

Established in 2000, Elon’s Distinguished Scholar Award recognizes a faculty member whose research has earned peer commendation and respect and who has made a significant contribution to his or her field of study.


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