1 8 Requested: $12,000 2

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1 Name: Sarah Nilsen
8 Amount
Requested: $12,000
9 Grant Period
Start Date: ___8/30/2011__
2 Rank: Assistant Professor
At Rank Since (Month/Year): 8/2003
End Date: ____6/15/2012_
3 Department: English
4 Area (Fine Arts, Humanities, Natural Sciences, or
Social Sciences): Humanities
5 Other Anticipated Funding:
6 Scholarly Product: manuscript
7 Years at UVM: 7
10 Project
The Mickey Mouse Club: A Cultural History
11 Project Abstract:
Completion of a book length cultural history of the popular Walt Disney television series, The Mickey
Mouse Club. Empirical historical analysis examines the development of children‟s television for postwar
suburban audiences and the way in which issues of gender, sexuality, ethnicity and race are addressed
through the show. The book draws on recent historical work in Disney studies and new Suburban histories
to enhance our understanding of the emergence of television into suburban homes in the postwar period.
12 Check if your project involves any of the following:
1 ___ Human Subjects 2 ___Toxic, infectious or carcinogenic/mutagenic material 3 ___ Recombinant DNA
4 ___ Vertebrate animals 5____Radioactive materials 6 ___ Environmental impacts
7 ___ Use of UVM off-campus facilities
8 ___ Additional space , remodeling or construction (Requires chairperson's and Dean's initials)
13 Check if you would like to have your proposal considered for the Joan Smith Faculty Research
Support Award in addition to those awards given general consideration ________
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____Sarah Nilsen______________
College of Arts and Sciences Faculty Research Support Awards
Budget: FY 2011-2012, July 1, 2011 - June 30, 2012
Sub Total
Projected Academic Year 2011-2012 Salary $62,915
(2010-11 salary + projected _% increase)
Requested Support (not to exceed 1/9th) + 39.5% fringe
$6990 + 2761
TOTAL Faculty Summer Salary (+ fringe): $9751
Research Assistant(s)
remains 1/9th of either salary.
salary for 2011-2012). In the case of a joint application, maximum
*Salaries: Faculty salaries not to exceed 1/9th of projected academic
Percent Appointment:
Period of Time:
Percent Appointment:
Period of Time:
TOTAL: Research Assistant Cost:
Number of Students:
Number of Hours each is Employed:
Hourly Rate of Pay:
TOTAL: Student Hourly Cost:
Capital: Unit cost $5,000
or more and useful life of
more than one year.
TOTAL: Capital Cost:
Supplies and Expenses:
No TRAVEL expenses
here. No page charges,
no reprint costs.
TOTAL: Supplies and Expenses Cost:
Travel: Funds are
available after 7/1/2011.
Only travel directly
related to conduct of the
research project.
Roundtrip airfare- Burlington to Los
Angeles (Burbank)
Hotel- Burbank (5 nights/ $130)
Rental car (5 days)
Food (6 days at $55/day)
TOTAL: Travel Cost: $1480
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Nilsen 1
Faculty Research Support Awards Proposal - Sarah Nilsen
Every afternoon in the mid-1950s, millions of suburban American children came home from
school and turned on their television sets to watch Walt Disney‟s The Mickey Mouse Club. Immensely
popular with both children and adult audiences alike, The Mickey Mouse Club made its debut on Monday,
October 3, 1955, ran for four seasons, and aired its final segment in September 1959, before going into
syndication as a half-hour program from 1962 to 1965. The Mickey Mouse Club proved hugely popular
during its first release. In 1956, The Mickey Mouse Club reached more total viewers than any other
daytime program. It reached more children than any other program, day or night, except for Walt
Disney‟s Disneyland series. It was seen four or five times a week by 42 percent of its weekly audience,
and in its first year came in second in the Nielsen ratings to only the World Series. As Steven Watts
argues in The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life, a cultural history of Walt
Disney and his studio, “This television show, beamed out to a national audience on a daily basis, was the
studio‟s most noteworthy contribution to the raising of America‟s children during the Cold War” (Watts
335). Though there have been several books published on The Mickey Mouse Club for fans of the show,
I am applying for a Faculty Research Support Award to help fund the research and writing of the first
scholarly book of the cultural history of The Mickey Mouse Club.
Much of the theoretical and historigraphic motivations for this project emerge out of recent
histories of Walt Disney and the Disney studio that have begun to draw on extensive archival material to
document the studio‟s impact on society. Previous Disney scholarship has tended to be unilaterally
critical of the studio and has relied heavily on claims of the Disneyfication of society, yet the broad
generalizations of much of this work have tended to lack empirical evidence and historical
contextualization to support these positions. This book is therefore grounded in both recent Disney
histories, such as the groundbreaking work of Steven Watts and Nicholas Sammond, and also media
audience studies that have begun to rely on historical evidence to document the reception of individual
media products on specific audience groups. I draw on this research to chart the development of the
suburban American children's television audience during the fifties. This book addresses two significant
holes within television history. First, historical analysis of The Mickey Mouse Club challenges and
problematizes current dominant understandings of Walt Disney products, in such books as The Mouse
that Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence by Henry Giroux and Team Rodent: How Disney Devours
the World by Carl Hiaasen, as one-dimensional, reactionary, and stultifying. In addition, my work will
redress the paucity of historical, culturally based analyses of early children‟s television and its impact on
baby boomer audiences. Recent work by new suburban historians has lead to a major reappraisal of
postwar U.S. suburbanization and yet the significance of the emergence of television during this period of
tremendous social transformation has not been examined. The Mickey Mouse Club was a foundational
show in the construction of the baby boomer children‟s television audience and the development of
children‟s educational media.
I have so far completed a significant amount of research for this project including the writing of
two chapters. My research so far though has been dependent on secondary sources and fan magazines
that I could access in Vermont. The manuscript opens with an overview of the history of the development
of children‟s television in order to position The Mickey Mouse Club within a broader discussion about the
significant social, cultural, and political discursive debates that surrounded the unprecedented
technological arrival of the television set into the homes of millions of Americans in the fifties. The
chapter further considers how these debates affected the production and reception of the Disney show.
The book continues, then, with the two chapters that have been written. One provides an examination of
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Nilsen 2
The Mickey Mouse Club newsreels and points to Walt Disney's ability to create for postwar
suburban children through television an intense, heterogeneous experience of a global community of
children. These newsreels, produced by and for children around the world, provided access to the globe in
a way that emphasized shared American ideals from the perspective of the child viewer.
The other completed chapter considers the Disney studio‟s publicity and promotion of one of
television‟s first children‟s star, Annette Funicello. Though many historians consider The Mickey Mouse
Club to be homogenous in its representation of white, suburban youth, I show that the Disney studio
intentionally emphasized ethnic differences as a model for assimilation during a time of significant racial
tension. This chapter has been accepted for publication in Mediated Girlhoods: New Explorations of
Girls’ Media Culture ed. Mary Celeste Kearney (Peter Lang, forthcoming). I am currently working on
two new chapters, one of which is an analysis of the show‟s serials, “Spin and Marty” and “Hardy Boy,”
and the manner in which the show represented changing notions of boyhood and masculinity within fifties
popular culture. Issues of adult masculinity in the fifties have received intensive historical analysis and
yet transformations in boyhood have received scant scholarly attention by cultural historians. This
chapter then considers how the Disney show offered a new and distinct model of boyhood that was
reflective of newer conceptions of childhood development that proliferated at the time. The other chapter
I am currently working on considers the scientific and educational discourse presented on the show and its
impact on the commercial imperatives of the medium. The producers of the show were caught in the
double bind of attempting to deliver educational content while the network executives at ABC were
demanding content that sponsors would support. Mattel, in fact, upon sponsoring Walt Disney‟s The
Mickey Mouse Club program in 1955, became the first toy company to broadcast commercials to children.
The contradictions between the financial demands of commercial television and the educational goals of
children‟s television would eventually lead to end of the series and would continue to be a major issue in
the evolution of children‟s television programming.
I am applying for research funds to provide support for the researching and analysis of primary
resources that are necessary for the completion of this project. I intend to use these funds during my
sabbatical leave in order to complete the research for and writing of the last chapters. These chapters
include an investigation of Walt Disney‟s relationship with federal agencies through an examination of
the studio‟s participation with the FBI in the production of several episodes of the The Mickey Mouse
Club. Though many earlier histories have characterized Walt Disney as a politically conservative and
activist Cold warrior, Disney‟s relationship with the federal government was not stable or predictable and
the shooting of these episodes at the FBI provides insight into the difficulty of producing a commercial
television show that upholds and articulates the ideological intentions of the state. The final chapter is in
many ways the most challenging and addresses the reception and impact of the show on audiences
internationally. The Mickey Mouse Club was immensely popular abroad, running for years in Mexico,
Japan, and in particular, Australia. Many members of the cast of the show assembled for highly
successful tours of Australia in 1959 and 1960. Television did not reach Australia until 1956 so the series
screened well into the sixties. Cultural historians have begun to question the theoretical and historical
assumptions in arguments about the negative, unilateral impact of American media and, especially Disney
productions, abroad. This chapter directly challenges these claims of cultural imperialism and
Americanization and provides one of the few empirical historical studies of the impact of Disney products
globally. By documenting the manner in which the show was received overseas and how audiences were
interpreting and actively participating with the show and its stars, the chapter provides a case study of
how Disney products functioned in the global marketplace. The only way in which these chapters can be
written is through access to the records available at the Disney Studio archive in Burbank. The book
closes with an analysis of the continued significance of the show through cultural analysis of later
iterations including The New Mickey Mouse Club in the 1970s and the All-New Mickey Mouse Club which
appeared on the Disney Channel in the 1990s.
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Nilsen 3
The next stage necessary for the completion of this book is a research trip to the Walt Disney
archive in Burbank, CA in order to access its extensive archive of the show, including production records,
clippings files, and fan correspondences. The archival research and writing of the next chapters for this
project will be conducted during my sabbatical year and I hope to have the majority of the book
completed by the end of my sabbatical leave so that it can be submitted to publishers for publication.
This book project is the culmination of my scholarly and teaching interests in Disney studies, children‟s
television, and cultural studies. After regularly teaching classes on Walt Disney and American Culture
for several years at the University of Vermont, it has become apparent that there is a significant lack of
rigorous, historical research on the Disney studio and its products that can be used in the undergraduate
classroom. This book is written with my students in mind, and is intended to introduce to them the
processes of historical interpretation and cultural studies methodology that occurs in the analysis of a
media product.
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Nilsen 4
Works Cited
Giroux, Henry. The Mouse That Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence. NY: Rowan &
Littlefield, 1999.
Hiaasen, Carl. Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World. NY: Random House, 1998.
Sammond, Nicholas. Babes in Tomorrowland: Walt Disney and the Making of the American Child,
1930-1960. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005.
Watts, Steven. The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life. NY: Houghton Mifflin,
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315 Old Mill
University of Vermont
Burlington, VT 05405
[email protected]
Ph.D., December 2000. School of Cinema-Television, Critical Studies.
M.A., 1995. School of Cinema-Television, Critical Studies.
M.F.A., 1992. Screenwriting.
B.A., 1989. English Literature and Creative Writing.
Projecting America: Film and Cultural Diplomacy at the Brussels World’s Fair of 1958 (McFarland,
forthcoming, Spring 2011).
“All-American Girl?: Annette Funicello and Suburban Ethnicity in the Mickey Mouse Club,” Mediated
Girlhoods: New Explorations of Girls’ Media Culture ed. Mary Celeste Kearney (Peter Lang,
“America‟s Salesman: Walt Disney‟s USA in Circarama” Beyond the Mouse: Disney’s Documentaries
and Docudramas, ed. A. Bowdoin Van Riper (McFarland, forthcoming).
“Be Sure You‟re Right, Then Go Ahead”: The Davy Crockett Gun Craze” Red Feather: An International
Journal of Children’s Visual Culture 1:1 (Spring 2010).
“White Soul: The „Magical Negro‟ in the Films of Stephen King,” The Films of Stephen King: From
Carrie to Secret Window, ed. Tony Magistrale (New York: Palgrave, 2008): 129-140.
“Don‟t Stop „til We Get Enough: Michael Jackson and the Enjoyment of the Other,” International
Journal of Zizek Studies (forthcoming).
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Reimagining Girlhood: Communities, Identities, Self-Portrayals conference, SUNY_ Cortland, Fall 2010,
paper presentation, “All-American Girl?: Annette Funicello and Suburban Ethnicity.”
Popular Culutre/American Cultural Studies Conference, St. Louis, Spring 2010, paper presentation,
“Selling Good Design: IBM and the Films of Charles and Ray Eames.”
African Literature Association Conference, UVM, Spring 2009, paper presentation, “Don‟t Stop „til We
Get Enough: Michael Jackson and the Enjoyment of the Other.”
APCS Conference for Psychoanalysis and Social Change, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, Fall 2008,
paper presentation, “Don‟t Stop „til We Get Enough: Michael Jackson and the Enjoyment of the Other.”
Popular Culture/American Cultural Studies Conference, San Francisco, Spring 2008, paper presentation,
“All American Girl: Annette Funicello and the Question of Ethnicity” and roundtable member on Race
and the Films of Stephen King.
Console-ing Passions: Feminism, Television and Video, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Spring
2006, paper on Annette Funicello.
Visible Evidence Conference, Concordia University, Montreal, Summer 2005, paper presentation,
“Anything Can Happen Day: The Mickey Mouse Club Newsreels.”
MIT4: Media in Transition Conference, MIT, Cambridge, Spring 2005, paper presentation, "Everyone
Neat and Pretty: Mickey Mouse Mediocrity."
Console-ing Passions: Feminism, Television and Video, Tulane University, New Orleans, Spring 2004,
paper presentation, "Six Gun Galahads: Masculinity and the Television Western."
Society for Cinema Studies Conference, Spring 2003, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Spring
2003, paper presentation, "Be Sure You're Right”: The Davy Crockett Gun Craze."
Society for Cinema Studies Conference, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Spring 2003, workshop
on the films of Claire Denis.
Film and History Conference, Kansas City, Fall 2002, paper presentation, "'Be sure you're right, then go
ahead': Race and the Davy Crockett Television Craze."
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Wisconsin Political Science Association Conference, Oshkosh, Fall 2002, The Media and the Bush
Presidency panel.
APCS Conference for Psychoanalysis and Social Change, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, Fall 2001,
“Do the Right Thing?: Transference in the Classroom.”
University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Dean‟s Symposium, Oshkosh, Spring 2001, "Popular Culture and the
Cold War."
Society for Cinema Studies Conference, Washington, DC, Spring 2001, “Violence is Desire: Claire
Denis‟ Beau Travail."
Console-ing Passions Conference: Feminism, Television and Video, University of Notre Dame, South
Bend, Spring 2000, “Shirley Clarke‟s Visual Jazz."
Film and Literature Conference, University of Florida, Fall 1999, “Bug-Eye in South Pacific: The Atomic
Sublime at the Brussels World‟s Fair."
Cold War Conference, Indiana University, Bloomington, 1999, “America‟s Salesman: Disney at the
Brussels World‟s Fair."
Western Association of Women Historians Conference, Huntington Gardens, Pasadena, 1998, "Gendered
Spheres: The World's Fairs of the 1930s."
Society for Cinema Studies Conference, San Diego, 1998, Media Literacy workshop.
Society for Cinema Studies Conference, Ottawa, 1997, “It Happened at the Fair: Film and the Paris
Expositions," French Cinema in the 1930s and Its Intertexts panel.
UCLA Southland Conference, Westwood, 1997, “Disneyland Goes to the World‟s Fair," Imagined
Communities panel.
Society for Cinema Studies Conference, 1996, “The Total Art of Stalin," Avant Garde panel.
University of Vermont, Faculty Development Grant, Fall 2005, research on the plans by the U.S. State
Department for the American Pavilion at the Brussels World‟s Fair of 1958.
Fulbright Scholarship, 1998/9, The Canada-U.S. Fulbright Program, research on American pavilions at
Canadian international expositions.
Vander Putten International Fund, Fall 2002, funding to meet with British media organizations and
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institutions in order to develop a summer media studies program.