This is a history of the Progressive Education Association’s Human Relations (HR) film series at Benjamin Franklin High School in East Harlem, New York City, from 1936 to 1955. Craig Kridel’s groundbreaking research on the HR film series has shown that this project was created by progressive educationalist Alice V. Keliher and leftist filmmakers who secured underwriting from the Rockefeller Foundation and permission from the film industry to cull excerpts for educational use. Studying archival documents from the manuscript collection of Franklin principal Leonard Covello, historical newspapers and film journals, Alice Keliher’s memos to Rockefeller Center officers, and staff filmmakers’ memoirs and biographies, I provide insight into how this film curriculum intersected with other progressive projects at the school, which included civic education, community activism, and diversity education. By looking closely at qualitative evidence of students’ voices in these records, I also tackle questions of youth reception, particularly regarding the role of social class, ethnicity, and locality on teenagers’ engagement with HR films. As both a history of educational film and a reception history, my study is situated within new historiographical trends that underline the significance of larger structures of power and discourse on the work of film.


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pp. 58-71
Launched on MUSE
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