The ways people have publicly discussed and written about media literacy in the past have great bearing on how citizens, educators and learners are able to think about and practice their own media literacy. Our concepts of media literacy have evolved over time in response to changing contexts of media studies and educational discourses as well as changes in communication technologies, media industries, politics, and popular culture. My research on the history of Media&Values magazine 1977-1993, made possible by the Elizabeth Thoman Media Literacy Archive, illustrates how tracing developments of media literacy concepts over time can give us much needed perspective on the discursive contexts that constitute our field of media literacy practices today.
In Media&Values, media literacy emerges from its historical contexts as a means for reform, a practice of understanding representation/reality, and a pedagogy of social analysis and inquiry. Each of these themes constructs media literacy as an intervention in power, but at different conceptual levels—addressing institutions; demystifying ideology; and negotiating identities. These historical constructions lend perspective for understanding our diverse approaches to media literacy education today in terms of how we constitute power relations among learners, educators, media makers and users, and media texts, technology and industry.