A Short Film About Mark Twain’s Anti-Imperialism Finalist For Indiana History Day Contest

To The Country Sitting In Darkness: Mark Twain’s Satirical Debate On American Diplomacy (2022)

The Culver Academies in northern Indiana have a proud tradition of producing Twainiacs. Hal Holbrook graduated from there in 1942. In his autobiography, he writes, in no uncertain terms, “Culver saved me.”

This year, two students from Culver have produced a short documentary film about Twain’s involvement in the anti-imperialist movement and specifically his criticism of American “diplomacy” in the Philippines.

Maya Jyothinagaram and Emilia Murphy’s film was entered in the National History Day competition and won the Northwest Indiana regional. We are pleased to host this excellent example of student Twain scholarship with a statement from its creators:

We both fell in love with separate topics in history: satire and Filipino history.

These interests, combined with our ethnic heritage that had roots in imperialism, manifested in Mark Twain’s criticisms of American colonialism in the Philippines. By creating our documentary, we endeavored to explore the ways 20th century Americans debated the U.S.’s alleged “diplomacy” and highlight Twain’s popularization of the genre of political satire.

Prior to the start of the project, we were not well versed with the works of Mark Twain. Although this presented a challenge, reading Twain’s writings and seeking support from several Twain historians – including Professors Judith Yaross Lee, Susan K. Harris, Matt Seybold, and James Caron – helped us better understand Twain’s anti-imperialist writings. 

The length of the documentary was limited but, if given the opportunity, we would have liked to delve deeper into Mark Twain’s impact on modern comedy. As American diplomacy continues to shape our world, it becomes exponentially more important that we learn about these topics and, similar to Twain, continue to question cultural and political norms. 

Maya Jyothinagaram is now a freshman at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She interned with the University of Houston to support the 1977 National Women’s Conference (NWC), cataloging historical sources and aiding with the creation of a website. Her interest in Mark Twain stems from a fascination with satire and its historical commentary.

Emilia Murphy is a senior at Culver Academies. She received the Batten Scholarship, a four year full scholarship funded by the Founder of the Weather Channel, Frank Batten. She was drawn to Mark Twain due to her interest in Philippine history and its connection to the United States.