Seigenthaler Chair launches 1st Amendment Encyclopedia

First Amendment Encyclopedia 1The College’s John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies launched a new online, searchable encyclopedia about the First Amendment on Constitution Day, Sept. 17.

The First Amendment Encyclopedia, which is free to access here, contains more than 1,500 essays and articles about court decisions and doctrines; people, law and events; and general issues and organizations significant in the First Amendment’s history in the United States. A special celebration marking the online launch occurred at 10:30 a.m. Monday, Sept. 18, on the second floor of MTSU’s Bragg Media and Entertainment Building, outside the Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence office.

Given our increasingly polarized society, it’s important to remember what should unite us: respect for freedom of speech, press, religion, and the right to assemble and petition,” said Ken Paulson, dean of the College of Media and Entertainment, which houses the Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence. “These five freedoms of the First Amendment are truly what make America special, and this new online resource is designed to give students and the public insight into these core liberties.” 

No other reference work devotes such exhaustive attention to First Amendment freedoms, said Deborah Fisher, interim director of the Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence. “This is a living, breathing project that will continue to grow in a way that promotes awareness and understanding of the First Amendment and its role in American history,” Fisher said.

First Amendment Encyclopedia Ken and Deb

Ken Paulson and Deborah Fisher

The foundation of the online encyclopedia is the two-volume “Encyclopedia of the First Amendment” published in 2009 by CQ Press, an imprint of SAGE Publications, Inc. The printed encyclopedia contained more than 1,400 essays written by more than 200 contributors.

Two of the three original editors of the volumes — Dr. John Vile and David L. Hudson Jr. — have spent the past several months reviewing and updating entries and adding new ones.

Vile is a professor of political science and dean of the University Honors College at MTSU, and Hudson is a former scholar at the First Amendment Center in Nashville who now teaches at the Nashville School of Law and Vanderbilt Law School. David Schultz, a professor in the School of Business at Hamline University and a senior fellow and professor at the Institute of Law and Politics at the University of Minnesota School of Law, served as the third original editor.

Fisher said MTSU students in the College of Media and Entertainment have worked on the development of the new encyclopedia website, transferring and formatting content.

First Amendment Encyclopedia team

The First Amendment Encyclopedia team at the launch in Bragg on Sept. 18 are (left to right) Alecia Heidt, web designer; Deborah Fisher, Interim Director of the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies; Dr. John Vile, dean of the Honors College; Ken Paulson, dean of the College of Media and Entertainment; Olivia Anchondo, junior in Public Relations; and Albert Whittenberg, director of Academic & Instructional Technology Services.

Each encyclopedia article contains cross-referenced links to related articles, as well as outside references for further reading on the topic. A user can search the encyclopedia by any topic or name, browse two tables of contents organized by case category and topic category, or browse an alphabetical listing of all articles.

A chronological timeline on the development and history of the First Amendment contains links to articles with more information.

The encyclopedia also contains overview essays, including one written by John Seigenthaler when the encyclopedia was originally published.

Seigenthaler, who died in July 2014, was a longtime champion of First Amendment rights and was a reporter, editor, publisher, CEO and chairman emeritus of The Tennessean as well as an administrative assistant for then-U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. After serving as founding editorial director for USA Today, he established the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University in 1991.

The encyclopedia is just one of the programs of the Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence, which MTSU established in 1986 to honor Seigenthaler’s lifelong commitment to free expression.

The Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence also supports First Amendment programs and lectures, including a Pulitzer Prize speakers series; sponsors hands-on journalism experiential programs for students; and houses “1 for All,” which provides teaching materials on the First Amendment.

For more information about the Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies at MTSU, visit


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