Wilbur Schramm

Wilbur Schramm
Born Wilbur Lang Schramm
(1907-08-05)August 5, 1907
Marietta, Ohio
Died December 27, 1987(1987-12-27) (aged 80)
Honolulu, Hawaii
Occupation Journalist, writer, academic
Language English
Education B.A., Marietta College
M.A., Harvard University
Ph.D., University of Iowa
Notable works Mass Media and National Development
Notable awards O. Henry Prize

Wilbur Lang Schramm (August 5, 1907 – December 27, 1987), was a scholar and "authority on mass communications".[1] He founded the Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1935 and served as its first director until 1941. Schramm was hugely influential in establishing communications as a field of study in the United States, and the establishing of departments of communication studies across U.S. universities. Wilbur Schramm is considered the founder of the field of Communication Studies. He was the first individual to identify himself as a communication scholar; he created the first academic degree-granting programs with communication in their name; and he trained the first generation of communication scholars.[2] Schramm's mass communication program in the Iowa School of Journalism was a pilot project for the doctoral program and for the communication research institute he founded in 1947 at Urbana. At Illinois, Wilbur Schramm set in motion the patterns of scholarly work in communication study that continue to this day.[2]

Early life and education

Schramm was born in Marietta, Ohio, to a musical, middle-class family whose ancestry hailed from Schrammburg, Germany.[3] His father Arch Schramm played the violin, his mother Louise the piano, and Wilbur Schramm himself played the flute. His father was a lawyer in Marietta, Ohio .[3] Due to their Teutonic name, his father's legal practice suffered.[3] Wilbur Schramm "suffered from a stammer which at times severely hampered his speech, and which he never fully conquered".[4] Schramm developed a severe stutter at age five due to an improperly performed tonsillectomy.[3] Schramm's stutter was traumatic to him and he avoided speaking in public because of it.[3] Instead of giving the valedictory address at his high school graduation, Schramm played the flute.[3]

He graduated Phi Beta Kappa[5] from Marietta College, where he received a bachelor's degree in political science while working as a reporter and editor at The Marietta Daily Herald. When he graduated summa cum laude from Marietta College in history and political science in 1929, he did give a valedictory speech.[3] He received a master's degree in American civilization from Harvard University, where he worked as a reporter for The Boston Herald.[1]

He left Harvard for Iowa in 1930 (mainly because of Lee Edward Travis's stammering clinic in Iowa City).[6] In 1932, he received a Ph.D. in American literature from the University of Iowa where he studied under Norman Foerster. He wrote his dissertation on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha.[5] Under a National Research Scholarship, he worked with renowned physiological psychologist Carl Seashore and completed a two-year postdoctoral course in psychology and sociology.[7]


Early career (1930s)

In 1935 he was hired as an assistant professor in the University of Iowa's English department (and was promoted to associate professor in 1939, full professor in 1941). In 1935, he founded a literary magazine called American Prefaces: A Journal of Critical and Imaginative Writing, named so because it sought to "provide a place where young American writers could write the 'prefaces' to their careers".[5] In 1936 he founded the Iowa Writers' Workshop.[8]

His own stories resulted in his award of the O. Henry Prize for fiction in 1942 for his short story "Windwagon Smith". His interests extended beyond the humanistic tradition, and some of his early work examined the economic conditions surrounding the publication of Chaucer's tales, and audience reactions to poetry written in different meters.

The outbreak of World War II led Schramm to join the Office of War Information in 1941 to investigate the nature of propaganda; it was during this time when he began employing behaviorist methodologies.

Later career (1943–1975)

In 1943, Schramm returned to academia as director of the University of Iowa's School of Journalism. In 1947 he moved to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as director of the Institute of Communications Research, which he set up as a "flexible and non-territorial" organization unlike traditional academic departments.[9]

In 1955 he moved to Stanford University to serve as founding director of the Institute for Communication Research until 1973. In 1961 he was appointed Janet M. Peck Professor of International Communication until he retired as professor emeritus in 1973. From 1959 to 1960 he served as a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. From 1973 to 1975, Schramm served as Director of the East-West Center's Communication Institute in Honolulu, Hawaii, and later held the titles of Director Emeritus and Distinguished Senior Fellow.[8]

Later life

In 1977 Schramm settled in Honolulu, Hawaii,[7] and was active at the Communication Institute at the East-West Center until he died on December 27, 1987, at 80 years old at his home. He was survived by his wife Elizabeth, daughter Mary Coberly, and a grandson.[1]


His academic career took him around the world as he conducted research "evaluating mass communications in Asia and Africa, educational reform in El Salvador, television in American Samoa, the use of satellite broadcasting in India and the design of an open university in Israel".[1]

Schramm was especially influential for his 1964 book Mass Media and National Development which was published in conjunction with UNESCO, which effectively began research into the link between the spread of communication technology and socioeconomic development.[7]

In Mass Media and National Development (1964) Schramm said that mass media in developing countries needed to play three roles—those of watchdog, policy maker, and teacher for change and modernization.


He wrote 30 books.[1]

His books include Mass Media in Modern Society (1949), Quality on Educational Television (1971), and Circulation of News in the Third World (1981). Before his death he completed History of Human Communication, which is to be published soon.



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "Wilbur Schramm; Wrote Many Works On Communications". New York Times. 1 January 1988.
  2. 1 2 Rogers, Everett (1994). A History of Communication Study: A Biological Approach. NY: The Free Press. p. 29.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Rogers, Everett (1994). A History of Communication Study: A Biological Approach. NY: The Free Press. p. 3.
  4. Wallace Stegner, Chair; Lyle M. Nelson; Nathan Maccoby. "Memorial Resolution: Wilbur Lang Schramm (1907–1987)" (PDF). Stanford Historical Society. Retrieved 21 June 2014.
  5. 1 2 3 Mccown, Robert A. (2009). "Schramm, Wilbur Lang". The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press.
  6. Duchan, Judy. "Lee Edward Travis". A History of Speech: Language Pathology.
  7. 1 2 3 Singhal, Arvind (1987). "Wilbur Schramm: Portrait of a Development Communications Pioneer" (PDF). Communicator. 22 (1–4): 18–22.
  8. 1 2 "Wilbur L. Schramm". School of Journalism & Mass Communication. University of Iowa. Retrieved 21 June 2014.
  9. "History". Institute of Communications Research. University of Illinois College of Media. Retrieved 21 June 2014.
  10. 1 2 Rogers, Everett M: A History of Communication Study.


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