“The Advantages of Knowing How to Read and Write”: Literacy, Filmic Pedagogies, and the Hemispheric Projection of US Influence


  • Christa Olson University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Nancy Reddy Stockton University




transnational studies, Latin America, film, literacy pedagogy, Office of Inter-American Affairs


During World War II, the US Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (OIAA) and the Walt Disney Company produced a series of educational films promoting literacy, hygiene, and American (US) values for distribution across the Americas. Through these films, literacy was to move across borders in service of inter-American cooperation. That movement, however, also reinscribed the distance between a modern, powerful, literate United States and a stagnant, resistant, illiterate “other America.” The program’s insistence on film as a pedagogical tool imagined the United States as a site of technical modernity in contrast to its American neighbors. Working in light of recent scholarship addressing how literacy controls and constrains movement, this essay considers the effects of literacy for literacy's others—in this case, the population of what the OIAA termed the “other American republics.” It highlights the American assumptions that circulated within the literacy films and became enmeshed with the reading and writing skills they claimed to provide. Examining how film moved literacy practice and ideology across national borders, this essay demonstrates how thoroughly the contexts and the media of literacy's movement shape the consequences of its transmission. 

Author Biographies

Christa Olson, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Christa Olson is Associate Professor of Composition & Rhetoric in the department of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A rhetorical historian, she uses the artifacts and methods of visual culture to investigate how national publics come into being, are maintained, and wield lasting persuasive influence. Her work focuses particularly on the Americas and has appeared in Advances in the History of Rhetoric, the Quarterly Journal of Speech, and Rhetoric Society Quarterly. She is the author of Constitutive Visions: Indignity and Commonplaces of National Identity in Republican Ecuado.

Nancy Reddy, Stockton University

Nancy Reddy is Assistant Professor of Writing and First Year Studies at Stockton University. Her research interests include writing pedagogy, archival research, and extracurricular literacies and writing groups. Her first book of poetry, Double Jinx, was a winner of the 2014 National Poetry Series and was published by Milkweed Editions.



How to Cite

Olson, C., & Reddy, N. (2015). “The Advantages of Knowing How to Read and Write”: Literacy, Filmic Pedagogies, and the Hemispheric Projection of US Influence. Literacy in Composition Studies, 3(3), 110-130. https://doi.org/10.21623/