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A Scene from “Dixie,” one of the Chronicles of America Photoplays, 1924.
Yale University Press Records (1910-1979). Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University.

Carmen Lee ’09, On the Yale University Press

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The Press contracted in the early 1920s to make a series of films, the Chronicles of America Photoplays, depicting important events in American history. The films were to be based on the well-received Chronicles of America book series, written by expert historians on specific episodes and themes and issued ten volumes at a time. In keeping with the broader public audience for the books, Press director George Parmly Day decided to produce one of the country’s first explicitly educational film series under the supervision of Yale’s history faculty. “If the motion pictures shown in its theatres, as well as in its schools, are of a high standard of excellence, no community need fear the influence undoubtedly and most effectively exercised by the movies.” The productions themselves, though praised for their minute visual accuracy, were unpopular and boring, and were quickly overshadowed by the arrival of films with sound. Throughout its history, authors, editors and administrators have disagreed over whether the Press’s priority should be to cater to a popular or academic audience; the Photoplays episode temporarily swung the pendulum to the side of the academics, but the Press’s popular aspirations would reemerge again and again.