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Thomas W. Benson papers

Identifier: 06352


  • Creation: 1962-2012

Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

Copyright Notice

Copyright is retained by the creators of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.


31.75 Linear Feet


This collection contains materials from former Pennsylvania State University professor Thomas Benson, and document his academic work on political rhetoric, film criticism, rhetorical theory, freedom of speech, nonverbal communication, and the rhetoric of contemporary conflict. Of interest, the collection includes a large set of protest posters from the late 1960s and 1970s.


For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Penn State University Libraries catalog via the link above. Archival collections may be housed in offsite storage. For materials stored offsite, please allow 2-3 business days for retrieval.

Acquisition Information

The collection was donated by Thomas Benson from 2009-2012.

Biographical Note

Professor, editor, writer, and filmmaker Thomas W. Benson (1937- ) received an A.B. in English from Hamilton College (1958), and a M.A. (1961) and Ph.D. (1966) in speech at Cornell University. Benson joined the State University of New York at Buffalo, first as an instructor (1963-1966), progressing to assistant professor (1966-1969) and associate professor (1970-1971). He moved to the University of California at Berkeley (1969-1970) as a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Rhetoric. He then served as a visiting associate professor. He was appointed associate professor at The Pennsylvania State University (1971) where he holds the Edwin Erle Sparks Professorship in Communication Arts and Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts.

He is the co-editor of the books Readings in Medieval Rhetoric (1974) and Readings in Classical Rhetoric (1969); editor of Speech Communication in the Twentieth Century (1985); and co-author of Reality Fictions: The Films of Frederick Wiseman (1989) and An Orientation to Nonverbal Communication (1996). His editorial work is extensive. He served as the associate editor of the Quarterly Journal of Speech (1971-1974; 1981- ) and Today's Speech (1973-1975); as editor of Communication Quarterly (1976-1978); and on the editorial board of the Psychological Cinema Register (1977- ) and the Rural America Documentation Project (1977). He was the founding editor of The Review of Communication and CRTNET (Communication Research and Theory Network). His articles have been published in such journals as The Southern Speech Journal, Today's Speech, Speech Monographs, Film Society Review, Quarterly Journal of Speech, Journal of Popular Culture, and The Pennsylvania Speech Communication Annual.

Benson was named Eastern Communication Association Scholar (1982-1983) in recognition of his contributions to the study of speech communication. In addition, he received the Robert Kibler Memorial Award of the Speech Communication Association, a presidential citation from the National Communication Association, and was named a Shorenstein Fellow of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Digitized Materials

Portions of this collection have been digitized and are viewable through the Pennsylvania State University Libraries Digital Collections website. Direct links for materials that have been digitized are available through the collection inventory.

Select digital reproductions of posters and newspapers from this collection are available online at Thomas W. Benson political protest collection.

Existence and Location of Copies

Access scans may be available for some materials in this collection. Please contact Special Collections Research Services for more information at

General note

Thomas W. Benson was a teacher of rhetorical theory and criticism and the author of numerous books and articles addressing the ways in which theories and technologies of communication have been employed at the intersection of rhetoric, politics and the arts of discourse. His papers present a unique resource documenting themes associated with the student anti-war movement and campus unrest in America during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The collection is arranged in four series: political protest posters; student activist and civil rights newspapers and ephemera; scholarship and faculty papers; and audio-visual materials.

The Political protest posters series and the student activist and civil rights newspapers and ephemera series contain various materials intended for mass distribution from the 1960s and 1970s, with the majority related to the anti-war movemement. Other topics include civil rights, social justice, and political campaigns. Many of the anti-war posters have the number "4973" included with the image or text. According to Barry Miles, the author of 4973: Berkeley Protest Posters, 1970, these posters were produced by students in the Political Poster Workshop at the University of California, Berkeley. The Political Poster Workshop was one of numerous poster workshops that sprang up on campuses as part of the student movement in the United States.

The Scholarship and faculty papers series documents Benson's interests in rhetorical studies throughought his teaching career. His research produced studies in both the arts of political discourse and the political discourse of the arts, from presidential oratory to protest demonstrations, political advertising, documentary film and television news. Prominent publications focus on: the autobiography of Malcolm X; the documentary films of Frederick Wiseman; the work of political ghostwriters for American presidents; and the radical ethnography of the work of political consultants in American Congressional campaigning.

The audio-visual materials series includes a significant number of instructional and student project 35mm slides aned audio and moving image recording from various projects, local events, and an oral history interview with Thomas Benson.

Of interest for Pennsylvania State University history, the collection documents "Gentle Thursday" a recurring event where thousands of students gathered to stimulate peaceful social interactions as a diversion from political tensions, and a 1972 Vietnam War protest at the Ordnance Research Laboratory (Applied Research Laboratory).

Thomas W. Benson papers, 1962-2012
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Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Revision Statements

  • 2021-05-24: Bianca Alvarez added an Existence and Location of Copies note.

Repository Details

Part of the Eberly Family Special Collections Library Repository

104 Paterno Library
Penn State University
University Park 16802 USA