Lost Films, Forgotten Women

Engaging Students in Historical Media Research and Recovery Work

When I began researching Hollywood Regionalism, I had trouble remembering off the top of my head which 20-30 film adaptations of American women regionalists I wanted to focus on. I suspected as well that my adhoc list was missing several important titles; it felt like every time I looked for films based on Willa Cather or Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings books, I found more than I had last time.

I decided to formalize my list by actually writing it down. I couldn’t always tell when novels qualified as regionalist, so I cast my net wide, recording every film I found between 1910 and 1961 that was adapted from the work of an American woman writer.

What began as a simple list soon grew into a database with over 300 entries.

I could never research them all, so I designed a course for my students at Georgia Tech to introduce them to Hollywood studio system filmmaking, theories of film adaptation, archival research, and public research communication. Students chose their own film to research from the database and compiled a portfolio of what they found (or didn’t find). They were encouraged to share their findings publicly; at the end of the semester, they had created and expanded more than 30 Wikipedia articles, added dozens of film gifs to Giphy, and published 150 blog posts about American women writers and their film adaptations.

Poster presented at Celebrating Teaching Day, Georgia Institute of Technology, 2019

Each of my classes then came together as a large group to design a project that would collate and share their research. One class mounted an exhibition with posters, 3-d printed models of film technology, and a short film adaptation they created and premiered. Another class built a website, “Hidden Features,” to showcase how their films and authors shaped early 20th century film history.