Theses and dissertations

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).

Motion Pictures in History Teaching

Chronicles of America

The Gateway to the West (1924), from Motion Pictures in History Teaching

Just added to the Bioscope Library is Daniel C. Knowlton and J. Warren Tilton’s Motion Pictures in History Teaching: A Study of the Chronicles of America Photoplays as a Aid in Seventh Grade Instruction (1929). The Chronicles of America was a 1923-24 series of educational film series produced by Yale University Press. The series included such earnest and traditionalist titles as Jamestown, Yorktown, Daniel Boone, The Declaration of Independence and The Gateway to the West. These three-reeler dramas were relatively lavishly produced, helping to pay their way by getting theatrical screenings. But their target audience was in the classrooms of America, and this study of the series examines its pedagogical value. It looks at how the series contributed to ‘the learning of fundamentals’, and the degree to which they contributed to enrichment, retention and creation of interest’, through a meticulous system of testing groups. The painstaking methodology is as fascinating as the underlying assumptions of the films’ photo-historical validity. It is also handsomely illustrated with stills from the films. It’s available from the Internet Archive in PDF (48MB), DjVu (5.4MB) and TXT (326KB) formats.

Lost and Found no. 1 – Joseph Joye

I wrote a couple of days ago on the Michell and Kenyon film collection of Edwardian actualities, and asked whether such an extraordinary film collection would ever turn up again. Well, not yet, but despite time marching on and nitrate film inevitably decaying, remarkable early film collections do still turn up. While we’re waiting, I’m going to start up a mini-series on previous amazing collections, which should make us hopeful of future such discoveries. To start with, the heartening story of the Abbé Joye…

Joseph Joye

Joseph Joye (1852-1919) was a Swiss Jesuit priest who decided, around 1902-03, to start educating the children in his charge with motion pictures. Like quite a number of clerics around the world, he made the leap from showing scenes on the magic lantern to capturing his young audience’s attention with films. What made Joye different was the scale of his endeavour. He built up a collection of many hundreds of films over the period 1905-1914, purchasing prints on the second-hand market in the German-speaking quarter of Switzerland. It is said that in some cases he smuggled prints across the German-Swiss border by hiding the cans under the folds of his cassock. All were shown to his child and adult audiences, and then retained at his Basle school.

Joye was omnivorous in his tastes, collecting comedies, melodramas, classical adaptations, travelogues, actualities, trick films, histories, science films, fairy tales, industrials, coloured films: the whole rich panoply of early cinema production. His collection remained at the school, until it was discovered by a British filmmaker, David Mingay, in 1975. It was taken in by the National Film Archive in London, which had the best facilities for tackling such a huge collection of nitrate film, in 1976. The collection of 1,200 prints (all with German titles) was eventually restored and extensively catalogued in its entirety, a task completed in the mid-1990s. It was also lovingly researched by Swiss academic Roland Cosandey, who published the book Welcome Home, Joye! Film un 1910 in 1993 (if you find a copy, I took all the frame stills).

Ah! Da fleigt ein Aeroplan

(Ah!… Da fleight ein Aeroplan, a 1910 Gaumont comedy about people’s amazement at seeing aeroplanes, from the Joye collection)

It is one of the richest collections of early films in the world, renowned among the early film studies community but little known outside it. The collection is full of unique gems. Among the star titles are Victor Sjöström’s Havsgamar (Sea Vultures) (1915) and Ranch Life in the Great South-West (1910), which features the first screen appearance of Tom Mix. There is the awe-inspiring S.S. Olympic (1910), a Kineto film about the making of the sister ship to the Titanic (much used in TV documentaries) and L’Inquisition, a surprisingly graphic Pathé film on the Spanish Inquisition, which makes you wonder what was going on in Joye’s mind when he purchased it. There are ravishingly beautiful stencil colour films, and many travel films from around the world providing rare glimpses of peoples probably never filmed before. It is thematically rich in so many ways. And no DVD has ever been published, no catalogue (all of the shotlists can be found on the BFI’s database, though no search will find you all of the Joye titles in one go), no BBC4 television series…

If the BFI is looking for another ‘lost’ film collection to promote to the world, it has one sitting on its shelves.

Motion Pictures – Not for Theaters

Motion Pictures - Not for Theaters

Now this is important. The Prelinger Archives are digitising the whole of the American journal The Educational Screen, and putting it up on the Internet Archive, volume by volume, 1922 to 1962. The journal reported on the educational film in America, and is an important source for learning about the non-theatrical film business and the rise of 16mm.

But its particular importance comes because between 1938 and 1944 The Educational Screen published Arthur Edwin Krows’ vast history of the non-theatrical film, Motion Pictures – Not for Theaters. It was published one chapter at a time, issue by issue, though it was never completed. It would probably never have found a publisher as a book, being of such length, rambling in style, and specialised in theme, but it is a fabulous store of information on filmmakers, films and film businesses working to make films that instructed, advertised, propagandised or educated, which simply cannot be found anywhere else. Sometimes the history is dubious, or too bound up with anecdote, and relevant information on people is often scattered across the chapters (the word-searchable text files supplied on the Internet Archive will be a huge help).

Caveats aside, it has a huge amount of information on the silent era, from the 1890s onwards, including such key figures as Charles Urban, Lyman Howes, Burton Holmes, Percy Smith, George Kleine, Jean Comandon, Max Fleischer, Joseph De Frene, James A. Fitzpatrick and Alexander Victor. Once again Rick Prelinger has done scholarship a marvellous service.

Education, education, education

Some new additions to The Bioscope Library. A prominent theme in the silent era was the use of films in education. It was driven by a mixture of idealism and commerce, but mostly by the evident appeal that motion pictures had for children – a challenge to authorities in every sense. An enthusiastic period in the 1910s, when many advocated the motion picture as an essenial tool for educating the young was followed by a period of experiment and analysis in the 1920s, determining the pedagogic value and the pitfalls. Many specialist producers in educational film then sprang up, exploiting the new 16mm film format for non-theatrical exhibition, riding on the bandwagon of what was labelled Visual Education.

Ernest Dench’s Motion Picture Education (1917) is a rambling but enthusiastic guide, which considers the potential for film to teach history, arithmetic, natural history, domestic science, even handwriting. There is some grasp of the theoretical side, and warnings that film is no substitute for text. Dench reveals how the great passion for films among young audiences was taxing authorities, which sought to master a medium they did not fully understand. It’s available from the Internet Archive in DjVu (5.3MB), PDF (43MB) and TXT (351KB) formats.

Don Carlos Ellis and Laura Thornborough’s Motion Pictures in Education: A Practical Handbook for Users of Visual Aids (1923) is one of the standard guides of the period. It is designed as the essential handbook for the teacher needing to the how and why of using film in the classroom. In good common-sense fashion it covers the history of educational film, the objections raised against its use, the advantages of using the medium, the kinds of films available, the practicalities of exhibiting them, and examples of their successful use. It’s available from the Internet Archive in DjVu (7.2MB), PDF (34MB) and TXT (515KB) formats.

Also in an instructional vein are two further books added to the Library. The year before his book on education, Ernest Dench wrote Advertising by Motion Pictures (1916), a fascinating, if discursive guide to the potential of the motion picture for purposes of advertising. Dench covers the selling of railroads, food products, agricultural machinery, shoes, real estate, newspapers and dry goods through motion pictures. He covers different approaches for different kinds of audience (working classes, farmers), and different media, with particular attention given to the use of advertising slides. Some of it is aimless speculation, like the chapter on naming soda fountain concoctions after movies, but its enthusiasm is appealing and it paints a useful picture of they ways in which the cinema industry engaged with the American audience in the early years of cinema. It’s available from the Internet Archive in DjVu (5.2MB), PDF (23MB) and TXT (207KB) formats.

Lastly, there’s Hugh C. McClung, Camera Knowledge for The Photoplaywright (1920). This pamphlet offers a simple guide to the technology and practice of cinematograph for the would-be writer of screenplays. McClung was a cinematographer himself, with Gaston Méliès, Willian Fox, Triangle, Douglas Fairbanks and Famous Players-Lasky. The chief intent of the booklet is to make writers “think in pictures,” and in between the general pleas for appreciation of the hard work that went behind the making of pictures, there are some interesting anecdotes which bring to life the practicalities of the business. Available from the Internet Archive in DjVu (604KB), PDF (2.2MB) and TXT (37KB) formats.