Date of Award

May 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Communication Studies

Committee Member

James N Gilmore

Committee Member

David T Scott

Committee Member

Kristen E Okamoto


Crash Course is an entertainment education YouTube channel that was founded on principles that align closely with that of liberal education. Liberal education is a model of education dedicated to broad knowledge, specific intellectual and practical skills, and personal and social responsibility, most notably civic engagement. Despite the value derived from liberal education, it is facing a crisis where it is replaced at the university level by neoliberalism, an ideology dominated by workforce performativity and individualism. Using Michel Foucault’s power/knowledge concept, this thesis examines the neoliberal shift in education as a crisis of power and explores how liberal education is rearticulated online through the Crash Course videos. To explore the channel’s content, this thesis poses two research questions: In what ways, if at all, does the Crash Course channel model the values of liberal education through its content? How are the principles of liberal education, especially civic engagement, supported and subverted through the content on the Crash Course channel? Through textual and semiotic analysis of 15 videos from 2015-2019, this thesis finds four prominent symbols presented to viewers: the American bald eagle, the American flag, light(bulbs), and mugs. Through this analysis, it is clear that Crash Course aligns with liberal education, but this alignment is not consistently applied to content on the channel. As such, the videos present citizens as in tension between the liberal, collectivist forces of the past and the emergent neoliberal values of the present. While the videos imagine citizenship in ways that embrace the experiences of everyday life, these opposing forces make it difficult for the liberal values to fully shine through, presenting the future of true liberal education online as tenuous. This thesis presents significant implications for both twenty-first century liberal education and edutainment for shaping beliefs about civic engagement in contemporary life.



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