The history of motion pictures in Chicago dates back to the 1893 Columbian Exhibition, when on the grounds of the Midway Plaisance—within sight of the newly established University of Chicago—visitors saw their first moving images. Motion pictures have been of intellectual and cultural interest at the University ever since—from the Chicago School sociologists and psychologists who studied the effects of movie-going on children, to the decades of students who have made Doc Films the longest-running and most ambitious student-run film society in the country. Since its founding in 1995, the academic program in Cinema and Media Studies has assembled a group of leading scholars in the field and developed a world-wide reputation for original, rigorous, and influential scholarship. With the growth and definition of its undergraduate and graduate curricula, the program (recently named a department) has been attracting an impressive succession of students with a wide range of interests and backgrounds; they have not only been creating a vibrant community for film and new media on campus, but have also gone on to garner prestigious awards, fellowships, and academic teaching positions.
While much of our work centers on film, we understand cinema as the point of entry for a broader culture of images and sounds that includes television, video, and digital media, just as we continue to study earlier practices such as the magic lantern, photography, and sound recording. Our scholarship spans the historical and theoretical understanding of motion pictures as a mass phenomenon whose scale, reach, and cultural implications are bound up with the historical experience of modernity and globalization. At the same time, we are committed to engaging with the artistic and aesthetic dimensions of cinema and media. We offer courses on a wide range of topics in American, European, Russian, East Asian, South Asian, and Latin American cinemas, approaching these from historical and theoretical, cultural, and transnational perspectives, informed by the University’s strong tradition in area studies. CMS students are encouraged to draw on the offerings of other departments, committees, and interdisciplinary centers. A key site for intellectual exchange are the Graduate Workshops in the Humanities and Social Sciences, in particular the Mass Culture Workshop and New Media Workshop. Our lively contacts with other institutions and scholars and archivists worldwide open up diverse avenues of study and research, as does the regular presence of renowned visiting faculty. Finally, CMS students and faculty actively participate in the Chicago Film Seminar, which brings together film scholars and critics from the greater Chicago area for monthly meetings.
Our work is vitally supported by the Film Studies Center, which houses a large collection of 35mm and 16mm films, video and DVD materials, and includes holdings from the Library of Congress Paper Print collection and Black Images collection. The FSC provides teaching and screening spaces and individual viewing facilities, and presents a rich program of lectures and special screening events.