A few days ago I posted something on Donald Young’s Motion Pictures: A Study in Social Legislation, a 1922 doctoral thesis available from the Internet Archive. I said that it had to be one of very first doctoral theses to be awarded on the subject of film. But was it the first?
Well, The Bioscope is loathe to leave such questions lie unanswered, and it so happens that I knew where to find the answer. In 1979, Raymond Fielding, author of standard books on American newsreels and The March of Time, produced A Bibliography of Theses and Dissertations on the Subject of Film: 1916-1979, published as University Film Association Monograph no. 3. This is a fascinating piece of work. It lists every traceable graduate dissertation and thesis on film from American universities, up to 1979. It lists 1,420 of them. However, it is not until the 1960s that we really start to get academic studies of films and filmmakers as we might expect now. Before then, subjects such as the educational film, sociological studies, and the economic aspects of film are common. Film as a means to learn about other subjects predominates for the early decades.
So, was Donald Young first? No – his was the second doctoral thesis to be awarded, and both of those were preceded by a masters dissertation by one Ray L. Short in 1916, awarded by the University of Iowa. Whatever happened to him? (see comments) Anyway, here are the twelve dissertations and theses that were awarded up to 1930:
- Ray L. Short, ‘A social study of the motion picture.’ M.A., University of Iowa, 1916
- Perry Roberts, ‘The social aspect of the motion picture.’ Ph.D, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1920
- William Breidenbach, ‘Design of a moving picture theater.’ M.A., Ohio State University, 1922
- Donald Young, ‘Motion pictures: A study in social legislation.’ Ph.D, University of Pennsylvania, 1922
- Harold Morgan, ‘Wish-fulfillment in drama and motion pictures.’ M.A., University of Wisconsin, 1925
- H.F. Cummings, ‘Motion pictures in education.’ M.S., Boston University, 1929
- Margaret Akin, ‘Social valuations of two hundred [and?] three motion pictures.’ M.A., University of Washington, 1930
- Ralph Cassady, ‘Historical analysis of competitive practices in motion picture production, distribution, and exhibition.’ Ph.D, University of Califonia, Berkeley, 1930
- Henry Hawley, ‘Distribution as a factor in commercial integration in the motion picture industry.’ D.C.S., Harvard University, 1930
- Perry Holaday, ‘The effect of motion pictures on the intellectual content of children.’ Ph.D., University of Iowa, 1930
- E.M. Porter, ‘The curve of retention in moving pictures for young children.’ M.A., Universiy of Iowa, 1930
- Victor Rapport, ‘The motion picture: A study in commercialized recreation.’ Ph.D, Yale University, 1930
There’s a Ph.D to be undertaken reinvestigating all those. Fielding doesn’t provide a chronological index to his bibliography, but from his index to themes we learn that the first dissertation on Chaplin was in 1949 (the next wasn’t until 1974). The first on D.W. Griffith was in 1961. Buster Keaton was first so recognised in 1970.
But what about British universities, or elsewhere? What was the first British film Ph.D? This time round, I don’t know. Does anyone? (OK, the answer might be found on Index to Theses, but I don’t have a subscription).
Update: Stephen Bottomore has passed on the following information about theses and dissertations that were produced elsewhere, and an American dissertation that precedes that of Ray L. Short. The information is in the comments, but I’m reproducing it here as well:
Some time ago I started updating Fielding’s list for these theses re/from the early era, and found there was even one before Short’s:
Joseph Richard Fulk, “The Motion Picture Show with Special Reference to Its Effects on Morals and Education,” M.A., Univ. of Nebraska, 1912.
In the same year was the first (?) French one: Jean Marchais, “Du Cinématographe Dans ses Rapports Avec le Droit d’Auteur,” Doctorat, Faculté de Droit, Université de Paris, 1912.
Germany’s first (?) came in 1913. I haven’t researched the UK so much, but the first I’ve found is Frances Consitt, “The Use of Films in the Teaching of History,” Leeds, 1931.
Thanks as always, Stephen. I have a copy of Frances Consitt’s work, which was research conducted on behalf of the Historical Association, and which was published formally in 1931. More on what is a fascinating work at another time, perhaps.
Another update: Frank Kessler has just reminded me that the first German doctoral thesis was Emilie Altenloh’s Zur Soziologie des Kino: Die Kino-Unternehmung und die Sozialen Schichten Ihrer Besucher, awarded by the University of Heidelberg in 1913, and published in book form in 1914. This is an exceptional piece of work, a sociological study strikingly modern in method and conclusions. It is based around a questionnaire and interview survey of some 2,400 filmgoers in the medium-sized industrial town of Mannheim during 1912 and 1913. It is in two parts: part one on production; part two on audiences and reception. The latter is available in an English translation by Kathleen Cross, as ‘A Sociology of the Cinema: the Audience’, Screen, vol. 42 no. 3, Autumn 2001, pp. 249-293. It’s a work I should return to at another time. Meanwhile, for those able to read German, the full text is available from the University of Oldenburg site.
And another update: How could I have forgotten? There was a doctoral thesis submitted by George Esdras Bevans, How workingmen spend their time, submitted to Columbia University in 1913, which has already been the subject of a post. Although not directly about the cinema, it does include data about cinema-going in its survey of American working class entertainments.
And a final update: There is one doctoral thesis that beats all the above. The French medical researcher, Jean Comandon, as part of his work on microscopic organisms, such as the syphillis spirochete, employed microcinematography (combining cinematograph with microscope), observations from which which were included in his 1909 thesis De l’usage clinique de l’ultra-microscope en particulier pour la recherche et l’étude des spirochètes. In the same year he was taken on by the Pathé company to make microcinematographical films of organisms for the popular cinema market, and he went on to enjoy a notable career as a scientific filmmaker (including a period in the late 1920s working for Albert Kahn).