Education in the School of Dreams

Travelogues and Early Nonfiction Film

Education in the School of Dreams

Book Pages: 400 Illustrations: 91 photographs (incl. 10 in color) Published: May 2013

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Media Studies > Film

In the earliest years of cinema, travelogues were a staple of variety film programs in commercial motion picture theaters. These short films, also known as "scenics," depicted tourist destinations and exotic landscapes otherwise inaccessible to most viewers. Scenics were so popular that they were briefly touted as the future of film. But despite their pervasiveness during the early twentieth century, travelogues have been overlooked by film historians and critics. In Education in the School of Dreams, Jennifer Lynn Peterson recovers this lost archive. Through innovative readings of travelogues and other nonfiction films exhibited in the United States between 1907 and 1915, she offers fresh insights into the aesthetic and commercial history of early cinema and provides a new perspective on the intersection of American culture, imperialism, and modernity in the nickelodeon era.

Peterson describes the travelogue's characteristic form and style and demonstrates how imperialist ideologies were realized and reshaped through the moving image. She argues that although educational films were intended to legitimate filmgoing for middle-class audiences, travelogues were not simply vehicles for elite ideology. As a form of instructive entertainment, these technological moving landscapes were both formulaic and also wondrous and dreamlike. Considering issues of spectatorship and affect, Peterson argues that scenics produced and disrupted viewers' complacency about their own place in the world.


“For early cinema scholars, it comes as a valuable contribution…. At the same time, in what can be seen as a rare achievement for as scholarly work, this book can be easily read and enjoyed by a nonacademic audience who will surely appreciate the use of historical anecdotes, colorful stories, and the commitment to a clear, lucid prose style that avoids excessive use of academic terminology.” — Neta Alexander, Film Quarterly

“This will be a ‘must read’ for the serious student of film and its influence on today’s media.” — Thea Biesheuvel, M/C Reviews

“...this is a carefully researched, richly detailed examination of a time long past when the world came to us at the movies, if only in images on the silver screen...Highly recommended.” — W. W. Dixon, Choice

Education in the School of Dreams, thoroughly researched and engagingly illustrated, insightfully examines a neglected staple of the early film industry; foregrounds provocative issues pertaining to reality, ideology, and vicarious experience; and restores travelogues to their rightful place in the complex history of cinema.” — Jeffrey Mifflin, Early Popular Visual Culture

“This most unusual book will have wide appeal to the reader interested in early film history and in tourism. The illustrations, many not published before, are quite appealing and illuminate the text at the most appropriate sections. … This will be especially useful to both the serious early film scholar and the imaginative film buff.”  — Martin J. Manning, Journal of American Culture

"Peterson's deep textual analysis . . . borders on brilliant . . . Education in the School of Dreams is a must-read for scholars of early cinema or for those working in late nineteenth- or early twentieth-century popular culture."  — Gerald R. Butters Jr., Journal of American History

"Education in the School of Dreams is an outstanding book written by one of the smartest scholars of early cinema. Jennifer Lynn Peterson brings the aesthetic beauty and ideological complexity of the film travelogue to life on every page. She asks the right questions of these films and their viewing contexts and offers theoretically sophisticated answers that will have an impact on historians of travel writing, geography, visual education, and the social sciences." — Alison Griffiths, author of Shivers Down Your Spine: Cinema, Museums, and the Immersive View

"Jennifer Lynn Peterson brings an imaginative scholarship to a much-needed study of a genre pervasive in popular cinema of its time yet unjustly ignored by film historians as presumably mundane. Education in the School of Dreams reveals that travelogues still have much to teach us about how the world was perceived and visually reproduced in the early decades of cinema. Peterson shows how such films not only deal with travel per se, but engage significant concepts, including nature, aesthetics, transportation, modernity, and popular and formal education. Peterson's research is both deep and broad, offering a truly impressive examination of hundreds of movies demanding our reconsideration." — Dan Streible, author of Learning with the Lights Off: A Reader in Educational Film


Availability: In stock
Price: $29.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jennifer Lynn Peterson is Assistant Professor of Film Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Acknowledgments xix

Introduction. The Dreamworld of Cinematic Travel 1

1. Varieties of Travel Experience: Burton Holmes and the Travelogue Tradition 23

2. "The Living Panorama of Nature": Early Nonfiction and the American Film Industry 63

3. "The Five-Cent University": Educational Films and the Drive to Uplift the Cinema 101

4. "Atop of the World in Motion": Visualizing the Pleasures of Empire 137

5. Scenic Films and the Cinematic Picturesque 175

6. "A Weird and Affecting Beauty": Watching Travel Films in the 1910s 207

7. "The Nation's First Playground": Wilderness Modernized in the American West 235

Epilogue. Reveries of the Solitary Walker 269

Notes 277

Filmography 323

Bibliography 331

Index 353
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5453-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5441-3
Publicity material