Rebecca Scales Headshot

Rebecca Scales

Associate Professor

Department of History
College of Liberal Arts

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Rebecca Scales

Associate Professor

Department of History
College of Liberal Arts


BA, Hollins College; MA, University of Georgia; Ph.D., Rutgers University


I am historian of twentieth-century Europe and my research focuses on the social, cultural, and political history of France.  My first book, Radio and the Politics of Sound in Interwar France, 1921-1939 (Cambridge, 2016, 2018) examined the democratization of radio in France, uncovering how how broadcasting became a new platform for political engagement by transforming the act of listening into an important, if highly contested, practice of citizenship. My research on radio broadcasting in France and its empire has also appeared in French Historical Studies; French Politics, Culture, and Society; Media History; and Comparative Studies in Society and History.

Since completing my first book, I have continued to work in global radio history. In the summer of 2021, I co-directed an NEH Summer Seminar for higher education faculty entitled "Radio and Decolonization: Bringing Sound into Twentieth-Century History" with Professors Andrea Stanton (Univ. of Denver) and Alejandra Bronfman (SUNY-Albany). I am also the co-author of a new history of international broadcasting, entitled Wireless World: Global Histories of International Broadcasting (Oxford, 2022).

With support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, I have begun a new book project entitled Polio and its Afterlives: Epidemic Disease and Disability in Twentieth Century France. Weaving together histories of epidemic disease, public health, and medicine with the social and cultural history of disability, this interdisciplinary book examines how polio transformed France’s welfare state and health care systems, fueled vaccine development and biomedical research, and mediated France’s geopolitical status during an era of decolonization and rising American predominance. 

My research has been supported by a wide range of national and international grants from the Social Science Research Council, the Embassy of France in the United States, the American Philosophical Society, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Société des Professeurs Français et Francophones d’Amérique. 

At RIT, I teach courses on twentieth-century Europe, imperialism, the world wars, urban history, the history of travel and tourism, and media history. 


Areas of Expertise

Select Scholarship


  • Wireless World: International Broadcasting in the Twentieth Century, co-authored with Simon Potter, David Clayton, Friedrike Kind-Kovacs, Vincent Kuitenbrower, Nelson Ribiero, Andrea Stanton. Oxford University Press, 2022 (hardback).
  • Radio and the Politics of Sound in Interwar France, 1921-1939. Cambridge University Press, 2016 (hardback, e-book), 2018 (paperback).**Honorable Mention, Laurence Wylie Prize in French Cultural Studies, 2016-17**

Articles & Book Chapters

  • La Tribune de l’Invalide: Radio Broadcasting, Disability Activism, and the Remaking of the French Welfare State,” French Politics, Culture, and Society, 37, No. 3 (Winter 2019), 53-78.
  • “Jacques Lusseyran et l’étranger: regards sur l’Amérique” in Jacques Lusseyran: entre cécité et lumière (Jacques Lusseyran Between Blindness and Light), ed. Marion Chottin, Céline Roussel, and Zina Weygand. Paris: Éditions rue de l’Ulm, Presses de l’École normale supérieure, 2019, 87-104.
  • Métissage on the Airwaves: Towards a Cultural History of Broadcasting in French Colonial Algeria, 1930-1935,” Media History, 19, no. 3 (2013): 305-321.
  • “Subversive Sound: Transnational Radio, Arabic Recordings, and the Dangers of Listening in French Colonial Algeria 1934-1939,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 52, no. 2 (2010): 384-417.
  • “Radio Broadcasting, Disabled Veterans, and Politics of National Recovery in Interwar France, 1928-1935,” French Historical Studies, 31, no. 4 (2008): 643-678.

Recent Invited Talks and Seminars

  • “Inventing Polio Care at the Colonie de Saint-Fargeau: Disability and the Welfare State in Interwar France,” Department of History, York University (UK), April 27, 2022. 
  • “Inventing Polio Care at the Colonie de Saint-Fargeau: Disability and the Welfare State in Interwar France,” Department of History, Bristol University, November 24, 2021.
  • “Looking for Listeners in the Archives: Radio Broadcasting and Subversive Sounds in Colonial Algeria,” Series on Musical Encounters Across the Strait of Gibraltar, Cambridge University, May 20, 2021. (online)
  • Book Presentation, Radio and the Politics of Sound in Interwar France, Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in the Humanities, Princeton University, April 5, 2021. (online)
  • “Radio Broadcasting, Disability Activism, and the Welfare State in Liberation-Era France,” Department of History, University of Leeds, March 28, 2019.
  • “Radio and the Contested Soundscape of Interwar Paris,” The Sense of Sound/Le Sens du Son Conference, Center for French Civilization and Culture, New York University, New York, NY, October 5-8, 2017. 


Currently Teaching

3 Credits
This course examines major themes and controversies in European history from 1900 to the present, placing particular emphasis on the early 20th century crisis of liberal democracy and the political alternatives proposed to parliamentary government: right-wing nationalism, communism, and fascism. Topics will include: the impact of World War I on European societies and politics; Popular Front movements in France and Spain; eugenics and the Nazi racial state; the Holocaust; occupation and resistance during World War II; decolonization; student rebellions in 1968; Cold War domestic politics; and the reshaping of post-communist and post-colonial Europe. Special attention will be placed racial politics and immigration, state surveillance regimes, and European debates over the Americanization and globalization of European cultures.
3 Credits
This course uses popular films to examine World War I as the global conflict that set the stage for the rise of communism, fascism, and subsequent wars in twentieth-century Europe. Students will gain an understanding of the major causes and outcomes of World War I while investigating how the war transformed class, gender, and racial politics in Europe. Special attention will be paid to the combat/trench experience, the home front/war front divide, the German occupation of Belgium and Northern France, “total war,” the politics of shell-shock and disability, and the legacies of grief, mourning, and commemoration. Because World War I so greatly divided its participants, little consensus about the war’s meaning emerged in its aftermath. Filmmakers have consequently used World War I as a blank slate on which to project political fantasies, condemn elements of their own societies, or imagine the future. Students will use secondary historical literature and original primary sources to analyze filmic representations of World War I and consider how filmmakers have deliberately misrepresented the past or constructed particular narratives about the war to serve their own ends. This course will therefore equip students to think critically about representations of the historical past in popular culture.
3 Credits
This upper-level course will focus on a specific theme or topic in history, chosen by the instructor, announced in the subtitle, and developed in the syllabus. The topics of this course will vary, but the course number will remain the same, so be sure not to repeat the same topic.

Featured Work