The Society for Cinema and Media Studies grew out of a series of meetings (the Conference on Motion Picture Education) held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City starting in 1957. In 1959 the Society of Cinematologists was founded with an initial council consisting of Robert Gessner (New York University), president; Hugh Gray (UCLA), secretary; and Gerald Noxon (Boston University), treasurer. Others important in the organization’s early activities include George Amberg (Minnesota), Erik Barnouw (Columbia), Eileen Bowser (MoMA), Jack C. Ellis (Northwestern), Richard Griffith (MoMA), George Pratt (Eastman House), Arthur Knight (Saturday Review), Cecile Starr (Columbia), and Robert Steele (Boston).
Membership grew from 37 founding members in 1960 to 100 in 1969 to more than 300 by 1979. Siegfried Kracauer was a founding member and Erwin Panofsky, Iris Barry, and Frances Flaherty were the first three Honorary Members
In 1960, two conferences were held, the first in March at the University of Minnesota ("A Definition of Cinema”), and the second in April at New York University. Thereafter, annual meetings were held, at which scholarly papers were delivered, and matters of professional and pedagogical relevance to the new field were discussed.
The journal of the organization, which had been started in 1961as The Journal of the Society of Cinematologists, became Cinema Journal in 1966. In 2018, the journal was renamed JCMS: Journal of Cinema and Media Studies.
Throughout its history, the Society has served as a conduit for academic and professional news, publishing newsletters, job listings, and calls for papers for conferences and publications.
The first name of the Society was always controversial. The term "Cinematologist” was adapted by founding president Robert Gessner from the French "filmologie,” a term coined by Gilbert Cohen-Séat in 1948 to give scientific credibility to his Institute of Filmology, established in 1948 at the University of Paris. In 1969, after Gessner’s death, the Council voted overwhelmingly to change the name to the Society for Cinema Studies (SCS).
After a period of rapid growth in the late 1960s and 1970s, film study began to make its way into the general humanities curriculum, often as part of English departments but spreading into departments of Communication, Art, French and Italian, Theater, Comparative Literature, and many more. As successive waves of theory swept the field, its focus changed and adapted. SCS also began to advocate for the acquisition and preservation of archival sources to support textual, historical and industry study.
Membership grew rapidly as film, communication and media study became increasingly prominent in colleges and universities. A new Constitution was adopted in 1975 that streamlined membership procedures, and clarified the mandate of the Council Executive and committees. By the mid 1980s television studies had been incorporated into the organization’s mandate, after some controversy, along with considerations of such ancillary areas as sound and non-theatrical film. The late 1990s saw the debut of digital media as a growing field of study. During the last decade the number of Scholarly Interest Groups (SIGs) has expanded, reflecting the growth of sub-fields in Cinema and Media Studies, many intermedial and interdisciplinary.In 2002 the "M” for Media was added to SCS to reflect these changes and create the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. As it grew, the Society expanded its operations and professionalized, setting up a home office at the University of Oklahoma in 1999 and formalizing new by-laws in 2005 that reflected the Society’s status as a non-profit organization. Recognizing its growing international membership, SCMS held its first conference outside North America in 2005, in London. Conferences have been held in Canada in 1971 and 1987 (Montreal), Ottawa (1997) and Vancouver (2006).
As of 2015, SCMS membership numbers over 3000 scholars housed in more than 500 institutions across 38 countries.
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