COM 584 (13509) Historical/Critical Research in Communication
Steven Alan Carr, Ph.D.
Fall 2004


Content and Goals

The course introduces both theoretical and practical considerations in researching media history, especially film history. The course has two major goals: to introduce historiographical questions about the writing of history, and to introduce practical considerations relevant to researching media history. The first course goal is referred to as historiography, since it is concerned less with history than it is concerned with how to study and question the underlying biases, assumptions, theories, and paradigms inherent in writing any history. The second course goal takes much more of a “nuts and bolts” approach, primarily asking: what are the established scholarly practices and conventions one uses to conduct historical research? These practical considerations include: how to distinguish between a movie review, a theoretical essay, and a critical academic essay; how to find “old things” to talk about; how to distinguish between different kinds of sources and evidence; how to narrow your topic focus to one that is appropriate for essay-length articles; how to use a diversity of research resources to enrich the historical perspective taken; how to keep your research organized through accurate note-taking, how to build and maintain working drafts of bibliographies and outlines; how to use appropriate terms when describing sound and visual techniques; how to build and sustain a solid argument that is relevant to your research; how to avoid making logical fallacies; how to provide appropriate citations; how to properly format a research paper; the practical and ethical implications of conducting oral histories, survey research, and intellectual property; how to pursue an academic career in film studies; how to incorporate multimedia clips in a presentation, and any other questions related to studying media history that arise.


In addition to this oscillation between historiography and practice, the course is structured around the dynamic tension between historical and critical research. In the fall, the emphasis of this course is on historical research. However, it is impossible to understand film history without understanding how a certain set of aesthetic conditions emerged from this history at a specific place and time. Thus, the course seeks to locate both the history of film aesthetics and the aesthetics of film history. The latter involves using historiographic methods to critically assess film history as its own kind of arbitrary aesthetic, complete with its own set of motifs, patterns, narratives, framing devices, and other dramatic flourishes. In considering the film history as a triumvirate of story, history, and historiography is not to prescribe the single approach to doing media history. Rather, the course offers a variety of different approaches and strategies that can help shape and mould the historical narrative, both ethically and accurately, in the way that you want to tell it.


Books are available at local bookstores and online. Additional readings may be required as needed and will be made available by the instructor. Copies of required books will be available for loan on a first come, first-served basis, and can be found on the shelf located outside my office door. If you borrow these copies, please be courteous to others and observe this Honors System: limit borrowing time to two (2) hours and make sure the books stay on campus at all times.

Prerequisites and Intended Audience

This course is intended for graduate students only. In certain exceptional circumstances, advanced undergraduates may register for this course only with prior consent of the instructor. All students, regardless of degree status, will be expected to perform at the level of a candidate for a Masters degree. Although the course has no formal prerequisites, students should have had the basic media survey course (COM 250 or equivalent) and the basic media appreciation course (COM 251 or equivalent).

Course Requirements

Because this is a graduate-level class, the assigned workload is extremely heavy. The normal schedule for readings will be in excess of 100 pages per week. Consequently, students’ primary responsibility will be preparing for weekly discussions of the readings. Unless otherwise indicated, all readings and assignments are due before class begins (6 PM on Tuesday). In addition, you will subscribe to a course listserv to receive periodic course updates. You will check on a daily basis both WebCT and your email for important announcements. You will be required to write a final, argument-driven paper based on an original research project. You will be required to lead in-class discussions and offer peer review on the work of fellow classmates. Finally, your participation will be assessed, primarily on the basis of what you do during the scheduled class meeting time, but in general on the basis of what you do as a stakeholder to help make this class a success.


No incompletes will be given for this course, except in extreme circumstances. If an extreme circumstance does arise, however, you are urged to notify the instructor and propose a workable solution as soon as possible. A workable solution in this case, of course, would include the possibility of an incomplete.


It is expected that all work submitted is the original work prepared specifically for this course by the student whose name appears on it.


Because this is a graduate-level class, there will be no midterm or final exam (though we will still meet during our final scheduled meeting time). Instead, you will conduct a major historical research project between 3000 – 4000 words (approximately 12-16 double-spaced pages) that both investigates some dimension of local media history (preferably Fort Wayne film history, unless otherwise negotiated with the instructor) and has significance for the media historiography. Although there is no minimum on the number of sources that you use, you are encouraged to develop a working bibliography of at least 3-5 relevant secondary sources for your literature review, in addition to using at least two primary sources for each factual claim that you make. You are expected to propose your research project by the third class meeting (7 Sep.) Although your final grade depends mostly on this research project, the project itself consists of numerous components that will be graded and receive feedback at various dates throughout the semester. You are also encouraged to discuss and share drafts of your work well in advance of any due dates.


Try to choose a project that both is manageable in terms of research, but also raises a significant historiographic question. Thus, the paper will advance along two significant streams. For the first stream, for example, manageable questions might include the following: What were the first films screened in Fort Wayne? Where was the first movie theater built in Fort Wayne? Who were the first audiences for film? How were films first publicized in Fort Wayne? How did early film studios ship their films to Fort Wayne? For the second stream, the paper simultaneously should go beyond simply answering questions of fact and consider such historiographic issues as: Is knowing the first film or first movie theater important, and if so, how and in what ways? Or are “firsts” just convenient pegs on to which one hangs historical narratives? Can the audience of a film tell us something about the nature of filmgoing as a cultural practice? Can we rely upon first-hand historical accounts of the audience to provide an accurate picture, or are these accounts inherently blinded by their own socio-cultural biases? Does historical publicity help shape the audience reception of the film? Or does it unduly shape the historian’s account simply because these materials are accessible? Does film history ignore the relationship between communication and transportation? Though not exhaustive, these questions should give some idea of the scope of the research project: start with a relatively simply question, and use that question to address a larger issue of historiographic significance. Keep in mind that your paper may not come to any definitive conclusions, even for what appears to be a manageable question. Historians have debated and will continue to debate both highly specific questions of fact as well as more general and philosophical questions of theory. What is important is the learned and informed manner that you demonstrate as you go about answering and responding to these sorts of questions.


Your final grade will be determined based on the following criteria:

Research Question and Project Description

100 points

7 Sep

Working Annotated Bibliography

100 points

21 Sep

Literature Review (2 copies)

100 points

19 Oct

Peer Review of Literature Review (2 copies)

50 points

26 Oct

Student-Led Discussion and Research Draft (2 copies)

150 points

30 Nov

Peer Review of Research Draft (2 copies)

50 points

7 Dec

Final Draft of Research Paper

250 points

14 Dec.


200 points



1000 points




(Above Average)


(Below Average, But Passable)


900 – 1000

800 – 899

700 – 799

600 – 699

0 - 599

Tentative Course Schedule





24 Aug


Practice:  Expectations and Responsibilities; Style of the Critical Academic Essay; Distinguishing Between Primary and Secondary Sources; Finding an Appropriate Focus; Conducting Library and On-Line Research; Ordering from Document Delivery; Building a Working Bibliography

Case Study: Pre-Cinema and Early Cinema

Film Art and Film History



The Historical Context of Film / Film History as a Text

Read:   Allen and Gomery, ch 1
Bordwell and Thompson, ch 1

Practice:  Disciplines and Paradigms; Evaluating Sources and Evidence; Using Archives; Using the Internet; Taking Notes; Framing Questions

Case Study: Bonnie and Clyde (1967)


7 Sep

Film Form / Forming Evidence into Film History

Read:   Allen and Gomery, ch 2
Bordwell and Thompson, ch 2

Practice:  Interpreting Evidence and Significance; Making Generalizations; Dependent and Independent Variables; Distinguishing Between Causation and Correlation; Literature Reviews; Preparing Working Outline

Case Study: Citizen Kane (1941)

Due: Research Question and Project Description (10%)



Narrating History / Narrative Form

Read:   Allen and Gomery, ch 3
Bordwell and Thompson, ch 3

Practice:  Writing Drafts; When to Cite; Avoiding Plagiarism; Common Knowledge; Intellectual Property and Fair Use; Film Terms

Case Study: Birth of a Nation (1916)

Types of Film History



Aesthetic Film History / Historicizing Film Aesthetics

Read:   Allen and Gomery, ch 4
Bordwell and Thompson, ch 4

Practice:  Style and Structure in Academic Writing; Paper Formatting; Formatting Works Cited Page; Formatting Citations in the Text

Case Study: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)

Due: Working Annotated Bibliography for Research Paper (10%)



Technological and Economic Approaches to Film History

Read:   Allen and Gomery, chs 5-6

Practice:  Logical Fallacies, Oral Histories, Survey Research, Human Subjects

Case Study: The Jazz Singer (1927)


5 Oct

Cultural Studies Approaches to Film History

Read:   Allen and Gomery, ch 7

Practice:  Synthesis Papers

Case Study: Imitation of Life (1959)






Local Film History

Read:   Allen and Gomery, ch 8

Practice:  Academic Conferences; Peer Reviewing

Due:    Two (2) Copies of Secondary Literature Review (10%)
All Revise and Resubmits of Submissions due on or after 7 Sep but before 19 Oct

Types of Films and the Elements of Film Style



Narrative and Non-Narrative Films

Read:   Allen and Gomery, ch 9
Bordwell and Thompson, ch 5

Practice:  PhD Programs in Film and Media

Case Study: Seventeen (1979)

Due:    Two (2) Copies of Peer Review of Secondary Literature Review (5%)

Last Day to Withdraw (29th)


2 Nov


Read:   Bordwell and Thompson, ch 6

Practice:  Grants and Fellowships

Case Study: The Great Dictator (1940)




Read:   Bordwell and Thompson, ch 7

Practice:  Publications

Case Study: Touch of Evil (1959)




Read:   Bordwell and Thompson, ch 8

Practice:  Presentation Styles

Case Study: A Movie (1959)




Read:   Bordwell and Thompson, ch 9

Practice:  Incorporating Multimedia Clips

Case Study: Once Upon a Time in the West (1967)

Student Work and Conclusions



Due:    Two (2) Copies of Student-Led Discussion Questions and Research Draft (15%)
All Revise and Resubmits of Submissions due on or after 19 Oct


7 Dec


Due: Two (2) Copies of Peer Review of Drafts (5%)


14 Dec.

Final Exam Meeting Time 5:45-7:45 PM

Due at Noon: Final Draft of Research Paper (25%)


Required Texts

Allen, Robert C. and Douglas Gomery. Film History: Theory and Practice. New York NY: Knopf, 1985.


Bordwell, David and Kristin Thompson. Film Art: An Introduction. 7th ed. Boston MA: McGraw-Hill, 2004.

Recommended Texts

 These texts are not required, but are highly indispensable resources and reference tools.


Balio, Tino, ed. The American Film Industry. Rev. ed. Madison WI: U of Wisconsin P, 1985.


Barnouw, Erik. Documentary: A History of Non-Fiction Film. 2nd rev. ed. New York NY: Oxford U P, 1993.


---. Tube of Plenty: The Evolution of American Television. 2nd rev. ed. New York NY: Oxford U P, 1990.


Bordwell, David, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson. The Classical Hollywood Cinema. New York NY: Columbia U P, 1985.


Braudy, Leo and Marshall Cohen. Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings. 4th ed. New York NY: Oxford U P, 2004.


Cook, David A. A History of Narrative Film. 4th ed. New York NY: Norton, 2004.


Corrigan, Timothy. A Short Guide to Writing about Film. 4th ed. New York NY: Longman, 2001.


Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 6th ed. New York NY: Modern Language Association, 2003.


Schatz, Thomas. The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era. New York NY: Random House, 1989.


Sitney, P. Adams. Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde in the 20th Century. 3rd ed. New York NY: Oxford U P, 2002.