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Historiography of Cinema

CWL 503

Same as ENGL 503 and MACS 503. See MACS 503.

Learn to be a “detective” into film/cultural history! This graduate seminar, one of two required courses for the UIUC Graduate Minor in Cinema Studies, explores practices and trends in writing the history of cinema and, by extension, other popular audio-visual media. It thereby offers a meta-historical study focused on how film histories have over the past century variously construed and also shaped their object of study, e.g., as an art form, an industry, a technology, a phenomenon of modernity, a cultural artifact, a site of ideological discourse, and/or material expression of national or ethnic character and/or collective social trauma. While initially critically surveying specific dominant approaches to film history (e.g. focusing on directors as auteurs, on movie stars, on national cinemas, on style and genre, and on issues of exhibition and audience response), this semester’s iteration of the seminar will emphasize in our readings particularly transnational and “sub-national” (e.g., “ethnic” film movements) cinema histories, for the construction and impact of such histories is a site of recent fresh and exciting research. We will to some extent set such trans- and sub-national frameworks for writing histories of media texts in direct contrast to a “national” film historiographic approach. Although national film historiography has proven persistent, politically strategic, and often intellectually productive, many media historians now contest that long dominant approach in light not only of current global media dissemination but also, even more compellingly, of the quite early and far-reaching impact of cinema’s worldwide circulation from its beginnings, as we can now readily learn through copious digitized cinema historical archives. Alongside additional selected articles, we’ll read and discuss most of two required books, Looking Past the Screen: Case Studies in American Film History and Method, eds. Jon Lewis and Eric Smoodin (Duke University Press, 2007) and Jacqueline Najuma Stewart, Migrating to the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity (University of California Press 2005). We will view several shorter films in class but students will also need to watch a couple of (readily available) additional films outside our seminar meetings. Each student will make several written and oral presentations on the readings, films and issues discussed, write a review of a recent academic book in an area of particular interest, explore readily available cinema historical archives (amazing resources on campus and the Internet), and as a final project compile an extensive annotated bibliography that proposes a cogent historiographic approach to an individual topic formulated in relation to either transnational or sub-national ethnic cinema histories (e.g., African American film history). That is: you will not write and submit a polished final long essay (of ca. 20 pages) for the seminar, but instead over the last weeks of the semester propose and research and present a polished annotated filmography and bibliography for such an essay. That “pre-writing” for a substantial essay could form the basis for a conference presentation and/or subsequently drafted essay that you might with further mentoring in a subsequent semester complete and submit for publication (as students in previous seminars making that assignment have very successfully done, as well as seen their book reviews written for class get published!)