CrashCourse Literature and other educational YouTube videos are essential mechanisms for connecting students and the general public to the humanities. Public humanities projects are in an intellectual tug-of-war between what academia and the diverse developing public want them to be, but that contention can and should be mediated using new media tools like CrashCourse Literature. CrashCourse Literature's emphasis on bringing the reader to the text and the text to the reader, echoes the goals of reception theory. Reception theory focuses on finding meaning in a literary text using the reader's horizon of expectations more than an a traditional, essentialist, "original' reading of a text. Analyzing public humanities projects like CrashCourse Literature through the lens of reception theory can help to show why the public uses them to connect more fully with the humanities. Within the texts of the videos "Fate, Family, and Oedipus Rex: Crash Course Literature 202," "Shakespeare's Sonnets: Crash Course Literature 304", "Like Pale Gold--The Great Gatsby Part I: Crash Course English Literature #4," and "Was Gatsby Great? The Great Gatsby Part 2: Crash Course English Literature #5," I see two distinct levels of reception that influence and strengthen each other: 1. First level of reception: CrashCourse interacts with and refracts the texts they are explicating based on where the reader is in time and space. 2. Meta-reception: CrashCourse interacts and connects with the viewers of the video by interpreting their viewers' responses to said text. CrashCourse's use of popular culture references, references to current or familiar social, political, and cultural ideologies, jokes, validations of viewers previous literary experiences, informal language all situated well within sound academic scholarship constitute examples of first-level and meta-reception. CrashCourse Literature sees the humanities, and fictional literature in particular, as exercises in empathy. Accordingly, they treat their approach to the text (first-level reception) and their viewers response to the text (meta-reception) with the same empathetic care. Public humanities projects that use new media well, allow public access to and connection with scholarly discussion and information. If academic institutions want to continue humanities research and discussion in a way that keeps their publics enthusiastically engaged, they will find good tools in CrashCourse Literature, which is engaging precisely in the kind of intellectual work and dialogue the academic establishment needs in order to stay relevant and significant to the publics they serve.



College and Department

Humanities; Comparative Arts and Letters



Date Submitted


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YouTube, educational video, CrashCourse Literature, reception theory, horizon of expectations, first-level reception, meta-reception, public humanities