Communication is about how people exchange information and interact with one another. The theme of “Communication in History” promotes the exploration of such topics as literature, social movements, conflict, inventions, the role of media, and even works of artistic expression, just to name a few. While there are numerous national and international stories worth exploring, the of exchange of words, thoughts, and ideas has also been at the core of some monumental moments that happened right here in Connecticut.
Communication in Connecticut History
Connecticut has been a place rich in communication traditions, dating back to pre-European settlement, when Native Americans traversed the Connecticut River and other navigable waterways as a means to both provide for their families and communicate with nearby allies and enemies. These indigenous peoples needed to devise and adapt new strategies for communication when European settlers and explorers arrived in Connecticut in the 17th century.
As settlers strove to build a new nation in North America, access to reliable information became increasingly important. During the Revolutionary War, for instance, George Washington utilized a network of spies that included Nathan Hale and Caleb Brewster to send him vital communications about British troop movements. As the war worked its way south, Connecticut residents were kept apprised of important events by sharing stories in taverns, writing letters, and reading reports in such newspapers as the Connecticut Courant (which was operated by one of the nation’s first female publishers, Hannah Bunce Watson.)
Struggling with the concept of what it meant to be an independent nation, Americans benefited from several forces that helped them shape their own identity. Among these was the creation of a uniquely American language (partially forged by Noah Webster in his dictionary) and the creation of uniquely American cuisine (which Amelia Simmons fostered by writing the country’s first cookbook). Simultaneously, men such as Timothy Dwight, David Humphreys, and the remaining members of the literary group known as The Hartford Wits shared their thoughts through poetry and other writings that captured the collective imagination of the country.
Communication Needs Spark Innovation and Change
The technology required to improve upon communication in the decades and centuries that followed drove Connecticut to the forefront of some the world’s most important innovations. On January 28, 1878, the Boardman Building in New Haven became the site of the world’s first commercial telephone exchange. In 1892, the US government awarded a patent to George Blickensderfer for what many consider to be the country’s first truly portable typewriter. Connecticut was also at the center of the rise of amateur radio and other technologies that sought to improve on the way people communicated.
The evolution of communication technologies inspired many of the world’s most influential writers to publish works that greatly influenced public sentiment. Jupiter Hammon, who endured life-long enslavement, became the first African American writer to be published in America when his 88-line poem, “An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ with Penitential Cries”, was printed in Hartford in 1761. Nearly a century later, Connecticut authors such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain changed the way the world looked at issues such as slavery and greed–their works made possible, in part, thanks to Connecticut passing the nation’s first copyright law.
The history of communication is certainly not without its share of controversies, however, and Connecticut has not been immune to them. In 1969, Hartford high school students launched a highly publicized strike to protect their rights to free speech. Years earlier, local reporter Emile Gauvreau helped give rise to the controversial era of tabloid journalism. In the 1950s, FBI agents converged on Connecticut as Nation of Islam minister Malcolm X undertook a speaking tour at local universities.
Connecticut has even witnessed failures in communication lead to tragedy, demonstrated by the only four-train collision in American history; or when an exchange of taunts and threats led to the death of prominent African American artist Ellis Ruley; and the night a misread signal caused a passenger train to plunge into a Norwalk river. All of these stories represent just a small sample of the complicated aspects of communication that have swirled around the state over the centuries.
So whether you choose to focus on technology, social change, literature, tragedy, intrigue, or invention, Connecticut’s history provides numerous examples of stories to help you in your search for a local topic that addresses the many varied aspects of Communication in History.
We designed this Connecticut History Day page to help you find the perfect topic and connect you to the sources you need to get your project started. We will add new items and links as we get them, so be sure to check back often. In addition, if you have any questions, we’re here, just ask. Happy exploring!