Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Film lessons: early cinema for historians of science*

  • Jesse Olszynko-Gryn (a1)

Despite much excellent work over the years, the vast history of scientific filmmaking is still largely unknown. Historians of science have long been concerned with visual culture, communication and the public sphere on the one hand, and with expertise, knowledge production and experimental practice on the other. Scientists, we know, drew pictures, took photographs and made three-dimensional models. Rather like models, films could not be printed in journals until the digital era, and this limited their usefulness as evidence. But that did not stop researchers from making movies for projection at conferences as well as in lecture halls, museums and other public venues, not to mention for breaking down into individual frames for analysis. Historians of science are more likely to be found in the library, archive or museum than the darkened screening room, and much work is still needed to demonstrate the major effects of cinema on scientific knowledge. Film may have taken as long to change science as other areas of social life, but one can begin to glimpse important ways in which ‘image machines’ (cameras, projectors and the like) were beginning to mediate between backstage experimental work and more public demonstration even around 1900.

Hide All

Thanks to Tim Boon, Patrick Ellis, Nick Hopwood, David A. Kirby and Simon Schaffer for comments on drafts, and especially to Patrick for bringing both books to my attention in the first place. I thank the Wellcome Trust (106553) for support.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Jean-Baptiste Gouyon , ‘Science and film-making’, Public Understanding of Science (2016) 25, pp. 1730

James Strick , ‘Swimming against the tide: Adrianus Pijper and the debate over bacterial flagella, 1946–1956’, Isis (1996) 87, pp. 274305, 304

Simon Schaffer , ‘Transport phenomena: space and visibility in Victorian physics’, Early Popular Visual Culture (2012) 10, pp. 7191, 71

Solveig Jülich , ‘Media as modern magic: early x-ray imaging and cinematography in Sweden’, Early Popular Visual Culture (2008) 6, pp. 1933

Scott Curtis , ‘Science lessons’, Film History (2013) 25, pp. 4554

Hannah Landecker , ‘Microcinematography and the history of science and film’, Isis (2006) 97, pp. 121132

Jimena Canales , ‘Dead and alive: micro-cinematography between physics and biology’, Configurations (2015) 23, pp. 235251

Iwan Rhys Morus , ‘Seeing and believing science’, Isis (2006) 97, pp. 201210

Charlotte Bigg , ‘Evident atoms: visuality in Jean Perrin's Brownian motion research’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science (2008) 39, pp. 312322

Deac Rossell , ‘Démolition d'un mur: the social construction of technology and early cinema projection systems’, Early Popular Visual Culture (2014) 12, pp. 304341

Jean-Paul Gaudillière , ‘The pharmaceutical industry in the biotech century: toward a history of science, technology and business?’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences (2002) 32, pp. 191201

David Edgerton , ‘Time, money, and history’, Isis (2012) 103, pp. 316327

Emily K. Wilson , ‘Ex utero: live human fetal research and the films of Davenport Hooker’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine (2014) 88, pp. 132160

Brian M. Stramer and Graham A. Dunn , ‘Cells on film: the past and future of cinemicroscopy’, Journal of Cell Science (2015) 128, pp. 913, 9

Haidee Wasson , ‘Electric homes! Automatic movies! Efficient entertainment! 16mm and cinema's domestication in the 1920s’, Cinema Journal (2009) 48, pp. 121

Wasson , ‘Suitcase cinema’, Cinema Journal (2012) 51, pp. 148152

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The British Journal for the History of Science
  • ISSN: 0007-0874
  • EISSN: 1474-001X
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-for-the-history-of-science
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 10
Total number of PDF views: 96 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 566 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 29th June 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.