Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2023

Course Description

Hollywood musicals are often presumed to be mere entertainment, in which spectacle takes the place of developing an intricate narrative or engaging with serious social issues. This course will come to the defense of the musical, engaging with scholarship on the genre to explore what stories it tells, how the device of the musical number facilitates storytelling in innovative ways, and its complex social impact. The course will track the story of the Hollywood musical chronologically, beginning with the development of the genre on the West End and Broadway stages in the late 19th and early 20th century; proceeding to the heyday of the musical film after the arrival of film sound; experimentation with the genre in international art cinema; and concluding with two new, arguably competing trends in musical filmmaking: the socially conscious musical and the nostalgic musical. Throughout the semester, we will explore the nature and significance of this genre's appeal for women and queer men and why the musical has been the frontline of Hollywood's imperfect effort to sensitively address the consequences of racial difference.

Student Outcomes

English and Film and Media Arts student outcomes:
The aim of this course is to deepen your knowledge of media and narrative history, practice formal analysis by comparing dramatic, musical, and cinematic storytelling, and develop advanced skills in researching and writing academic papers in the discipline of English and Film studies.

This general objective breaks down into the following aims: By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Identify some of the most common, innovative, and/or influential characteristics of the Hollywood musical as a storytelling medium and how this genre has evolved since the introduction of film sound;
  • Explain important historical developments from the 20th and 21st century concerning gender, sexuality, and race and integrate this knowledge into your understanding of the musical film’s evolution;
  • Thoughtfully examine, discuss, and compare scholarly arguments from the field of musical and film studies;
  • Analyze how and hypothesize why film artists of diverse backgrounds and historical moments have adapted the generic conventions associated with musical comedy;
  • Practice formulating strong research questions about film history and conducting research into primary and secondary sources to address this question; and
  • Compose a research essay that integrates formal analysis with primary and secondary sources to advance a strong argument in response to a clear research question.

Remember that course objectives are aspirational rather than contractual. Enrolling in this course does not ensure that you will be able to fulfill the learning goals. Instead, the course is designed so that you can reasonably expect to be able to perform the competencies above if you put in the effort required by the course.

Arts & Humanities student outcomes

  • By the end of this course, students will be able to critically observe and analyze the wide- range of narrative, visual, and musical techniques film artists use to depict and reflect upon contemporary social life