Professor of Rhetoric and Media Studies
Peter Christenson specializes in media studies and teaches a variety of courses related to the role of media in contemporary society. His research interests focus on the impact of media on children and adolescents, with a particular emphasis on popular music. He’s taught many classes during his time at Lewis & Clark including Empirical Research Methods and Media Across Cultures.
How did you first get interested in media?
I grew up in Eugene, OR, and then I went to Dartmouth College, as far away from home as you can possibly imagine. I was a psych major at Dartmouth and there was a professor there that was really interested in the theories of Marshall McLuhan. A bunch of us formed a little group around him and went to his house and talked about [McLuhan’s] theories/wacky ideas about the changing media environment. I took a few years between undergraduate and grad school at Stanford University. I played in a rock and roll band for most of that time. When I went back to Stanford, my advisor there was really interested in children and the impact of tv on children, so I linked up with him. My first teaching position was at Penn State.
What are you passionate about professionally?
Well my current passion is popular music and I’m doing some research in that field right now. We’re looking at over time changes in the messages in popular music lyrics (over the last 50 years). We’ve got a paper written and we’ve got some trends there that are interesting. I’ve always really enjoyed research.
Have you worked with students on any of your research?
Students have been involved in the [Pop Music Lyrics] project from the outset. But they’ve been, for years, very involved in my research and in fact I’ve had students co-author papers that are in prominent journals and attend conferences.
What is your favorite class that you’ve taught?
My favorite class was a class on mass media law and regulation. It was almost a legal studies class. If I have the opportunity I’d like to come back and teach, you know, on a one-off basis after I retire, officially. My second favorite would have to be Empirical Research Methods which students hate but I love.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
Television weatherman. It’s true. I still regret it. I would have been a good one. I have the right personality.I’ve always been really interested in the weather. It’s been a hobby since my dad got me some fancy weather equipment when I was in fourth grade. I spend a lot of time looking at the sky and watching the clouds.
You are primarily a media person. How do you connect with rhetoric?
When I teach Introduction to Rhetoric & Media Studies I try to bridge those connections. I have really enjoyed learning classical and contemporary rhetorical theory and semiotics. Rhetoric is the fount of all communication studies. The faculty in our department are dea ling with contemporary and general issues that are critical to being a citizen: how we convey ideas, how great speeches are made, how the media influences us, and those are things everyone should know about.
How would you describe the RHMS department in three words?
Vibrant, Eclectic, and Relevant.
Peter has published a number of books, articles and reports, including “Booze, drugs and popular music: Trends in Substance Portrayals in the Billboard Top 100” (Substance Use and Misuse, 2011), “The Multicultural Implications of Popular Music” (in the 2008 Sage Handbook of Child Development, Multiculturalism and Mass Media), It’s Not Only Rock and Roll—Popular Music in the Lives of Adolescents (with Donald Roberts, 1998), Substance Abuse in Popular Movies and Music (1999), Substance Use in Popular Music Videos (2002), and Prime Time Teens (2004).
Ph.D. 1980 Stanford University, M.A. 1973 University of Oregon, B.A. 1968 Dartmouth College