Watch and learn
: film and the British educational life 1895-1910

  • Anushrut Ramakrishnan Agrwaal

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis examines the relationship between film and education in Britain before 1910 and comprehends the impact of moral, religious, and disciplinary instructional cultures on the British film industry. Equally, the thesis traces how the moving image capabilities of the cinematic medium shaped the visual instruction methods of educational institutions such as schools, universities, churches, and disciplinary societies. This thesis argues that the process of institutionalisation of educational film began from the earliest days of the medium, and that forms of institutionalisation existed from these earliest days, rather than in the 1910s as film
historical literature has previously stated. Further, that the history of film’s usefulness to educational institutions is not a singular media history. Here, I situate film within a wider media archaeological framework, and reflect on how developments in moving image technology, and production and exhibition practices, were informed by the socio-cultural roles fulfilled by other
media, such as popular print and magic lantern projection.

Specifically, I examine how late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century legislations that regulated public entertainment shaped the use of film within places of public education in Britain; I discuss how film producers sought to advertise their educational usefulness via the publication of written content; I trace the overlapping history of cinema and geographical education, to show that film was crucial to popularising the discipline’s modes of thinking; and finally, I show how even in its absence within religious institutions, cinema was seminal in shaping the religious instruction strategies within these organisations.

My methodology has been to make use of materials that are recognised for their value to legal, municipal, disciplinary, and religious histories, and foreground their relevance to the history of moving image media. Here the thesis’ discussions are based not only on film-specific archival research – catalogues, trade-journals etc. – but also on the study of municipal records, church committee minutes, proceedings of literary and scientific societies, religious and scientific journals, and other documents that often had very little direct mention of film. In doing so, I connect the development in film technologies, and production and exhibition practices, to the wider developments in turn-of-the-century Britain. Thus, taking an interdisciplinary approach that positions the discourse around film and education within a broader legal, political, and sociological context of British society, the thesis shows that the
history of educational film is central to the history of early filmmaking practice and its subsequent cultural impact.
Date of Award10 Jun 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorTom Rice (Supervisor) & Kirsty Sinclair Dootson (Supervisor)


  • Film history
  • Early cinema
  • Educational cinema
  • Non-theatrical film
  • Media history
  • Media studies
  • Useful cinema
  • History of education

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 10 January 2029

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