In the light of the technological impact of an increasingly digitized media landscape, the "death” of cinema (and most recently of film) is a repeated trope that simultaneously draws attention to the moment of the media’s emergence. It is with this tension in mind that the establishment of the Silent Cultures Scholarly Interest Group seems particularly timely. With surging interest in digital and new media studies has come a renewed focus on other points of transition or emergence. The "silent-era” as a term - holding within it the period of early cinema, the transitional era, and the late-silent era - encompasses two moments of emergence; from the development and establishment of cinema as a popular medium and the important stylistic, technological, and theoretical implications of the transition to sound.
There are many media scholars who may not self-identify as early cinema historians, but who would enjoy, benefit, and engage with other scholars working on the silent-era, for instance, in pre-cinema technology, visual toys, photography and other contemporary cultural and artistic practices, such as pantomime, theatre, and dance. This SIG would bring together scholars and practitioners working in the fields of cinema studies, visual culture, history of technology and science, and cultural studies. Areas of interest within this include, but are not limited to: early cinema, visual culture, spectacle, alternative spaces, formats, etc. etc. This SIG also would act as another connection between the academic and archival worlds, and between other SIGs, such as Nontheatrical Film and Media, and committees within SCMS, such as the Media Archives Committee.
Moreover, since many scholars working on this period, particularly the pre-cinema and early cinema years, often produce interdisciplinary work that is organized by technology or longer visual traditions, rather than by genre or authorial concerns, the engagement of such scholars with issues of interest to a larger population at SCMS (such as the growing interest in digital and new media studies) is not always immediately obvious from paper titles. The SCMS SIG would provide visibility to this area of research, allowing members to identify relevant conference panels and potential collaborators on other intellectual endeavors.
This group could benefit from the opportunity to meet regularly, share works in progress, discuss strategies for incorporating these materials into curricula, and participate in the key debates of this field as it takes shape.
The concept of "silent cinema cultures” encompasses a historical period defined from the years immediately preceding the invention of cinema through to the coming of sound.
While conceivably organized by genres, and national cinemas, it is also defined by the circulation of films and media outside of traditional movie theaters, alternative screening spaces and other cultural visual practices, such as magic lantern, the illustrated or traveling lecture. As more primary materials become available through digitization, the resulting consolidation and growth of the field in both research and scholarship of early cinema that has been going on for the past three decades. It also draws on recent research in analogous fields, such as architecture, with the interrogation of site specificity and space; studies of science and technology, with an interest in the mobility and circulation of technological networks.
Exciting work is being produced in this area, and we wish to embrace this momentum by providing these scholars with a visible home within SCMS that can serve existing as well as emerging scholars. We envision the mission of the Silent Cinema Cultures Interest Group as a site to facilitate discussion, consolidation, outreach, and inclusion. Thus the mission of the Silent Cinema Cultures SIG consists of two broad objectives:
- To provide a forum in which silent-era film and media scholars can discuss their work, organize panels and workshops, and screenings for each year's conference, and work together to accomplish the goals and objectives of the group;
- To schedule a yearly meeting at the SCMS conference where we can gather to formulate more specific programs and plans.
Goals and Objectives
- To work with the Executive Committee and each year's Conference Program Committee as a source of silent film and media-related expertise;
- To support Cinema Journal and other publications and to encourage their inclusion of silent-era film and media-related scholarship;
- To work with other SCMS groups, such as the various caucuses and issues groups, and to bring a silent film and media-specific orientation to such ongoing SCMS issues as preservation of and access to archival materials, encouragement and support of minority work, and others;
- To take on special projects, such as specially designated panels, joint conferences, plenary participation, or workshops;
- To set up a silent-era film and media website, which can eventually serve as a resource for interested scholars;
- To encourage international membership and participation in SCMS for silent-era film and media scholars in other countries, since the issues we address are of relevance everywhere, and to resist the insularity of much of American media studies.
- To provide a forum for those whose work touches on the silent era, whether or not this is the main focus of their work and promote interdisciplinary work across academic fields not primarily represented at SMCS.
- To provide a venue for emerging scholars to learn more about the era and its potentials for research, etc.
- Draw awareness to the importance of the early period for those working in digital or new media studies and to draw connections between other periods of emergent media, such as television, radio, digital, etc.
- Provide a resource for teaching the silent era in an engaging way to both undergraduate and graduate students.
- The Silent Cinema Cultures Scholarly Interest Group (SCCSIG) will meet at each SCMS annual conference. Exact meeting time and place subject to approval by the Program Committee.
- Two Co-Chairs will be nominated from and elected by the general SCCSIG membership in attendance at the first meeting. The term of the Chairship will be three years.
- A Steering Committee of four NFMSIG members will be nominated from and elected by the general NFMSIG membership in attendance at the first meeting. The term of the Steering Committee will be three years.
- The Co-Chairs will be responsible for organizing meetings, preparing regular minutes and reports, organizing conference events and special projects, maintaining the listserv and website, and communicating with the membership.
- The Steering Committee will help with and be available for consultation about any of the duties of the Co-Chairs.
- The Co-Chairs, in consultation with the Steering Committee, shall suggest potential uses of the annual SCMS SIG fund.
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Contacts: (Updated 2/18/20)
Liz Clarke (co-chair)
Wyatt Phillips (co-chair)
Aurore Spiers (graduate student representative)