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“Making the devil useful”: English teachers and the movies in America, 1910–1941

, City University of New York, United States

Doctor of Philosophy, City University of New York . Awarded


From its earliest stages of development in the late 1800s, the academic discipline of English has been characterized by a split into two distinct, variously valued academic activities. The putative “high” side of the binary, the teaching and study of works of literature, has traditionally been privileged as the true, noble calling of the discipline, while the “low” side, composition, has functioned as the service sector of the field, serving to acculturate beginning writers to official, authorized conventions of written discourse. English, as bifurcated as it is, has by and large had a fairly long, healthy and quite productive relationship with the movies, having meaningfully incorporated film on either side of the composition/literature split. The cultural relevance and pedagogical possibilities of film have even from very early on intrigued enough teachers and scholars to merit a substantial degree of attention to both the film medium and film-based approaches to teaching both literature and composition in well-known professional publications like The English Journal and The Educational Screen. From the 1910s, narrative fiction films have served as an adjunct for literary study or even as an object of analysis itself, on the one hand, and as a heuristic of various sorts for composition instruction, on the other, at both the secondary and post-secondary levels.

This dissertation, then, considers the varied ways in which American teachers of English responded to and integrated commercial theatrical films into writing and literature curricula from the 1910s through the decline of the film appreciation movement in the early 1940s in the wake to a shift in the focus of American education from Progressive educational priorities to the pragmatic needs of a country at war. It explores contemporary professional and popular discourses around film and pedagogy that reflected, animated, and problematized classroom practice during this period. It presents a critical reception history of film in English as animated by implicit preoccupations with, among others, questions concerning textuality, art, literariness, subjectivity, spectatorship, cultural value, social hygiene, and democratic action that informed classroom practice and professional discourses on movies within English curricula through the start of World War II.


Gershovich, M. “Making the devil useful”: English teachers and the movies in America, 1910–1941. Doctor of Philosophy thesis, City University of New York. Retrieved June 19, 2021 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 22, 2013. [Original Record]

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