Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department

Professional Communication

Committee Chair/Advisor

Hilligoss, Susan


In the United States, high school and college yearbooks are extraordinarily well known as a genre, yet they are largely unstudied. Yearbooks preserve images, stories, and facts from each year for one specific group of people, linked by age and geographic community. Yearbook production is a significant commercial enterprise, yet it involves novice writers, editors, and designers. Blending elements of craft, tradition, business, and media, yearbooks as a distinctive genre bear closer rhetorical study and application of professional communication theories.
This historical case study of production practices for a particular college yearbook positions yearbooks rhetorically as texts and sites of communication practices. The literature review examines the scholarship of yearbooks, rhetorical studies of genre and activity theory, and, because yearbooks are a visual genre, rhetorical studies of design. The research incorporates 1) a rich description of yearbook production from 2003-05, and 2) a rhetorical analysis of the spreads and images of the two college yearbooks produced during that period. The description of production relies on materials used in generating the yearbooks as well as a personal interview with a publishing representative and retrospective description of personal experience. It applies genre, activity theory, and genre ecology theory as a framework for analyzing yearbooks. The visual composition analysis applies the concepts of Kress and van Leeuwen.
The results show that these two yearbooks were produced by a complex and interconnected activity system involving many different people, documents, technologies, and actions. One change to the system affects all other aspects and influences the entire dynamic of production. An analysis of the images in the two yearbooks revealed that persons were depicted predominantly as making an offer in gaze, at medium social distance, and at eye level with the viewer. What emerged from an analysis of the composition of yearbook layouts was an understanding of information value and the power of yearbook creators in determining the order of importance in the spread.
The conclusion develops avenues for further study including reception, workplace communication, feminist studies, technology, and ideology. Ultimately, additional research might address this genre in terms of ideological critique, investigating Anis Bawarshi's formulation about genres as 'sites for cultural critique and change.' Yearbooks, with their longevity and adherence to tradition, tend to present positive images and rarely confront questions of who or what is left out of their covers. Cultural critiques of yearbooks might educate future advisers and even publisher's representatives.



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