Dr Michael Cowan
Head of Department
My backgrounds are in German (PhD), French (MA) and Cultural Studies (BA), and I work mostly on European (particularly German and French) film and media history, with related interests in digital theory, visual culture, film theory, experimental film and non-theatrical cinema.
Prior to coming to St Andrews in 2015, I was Associate Professor of German at McGill University, where I also held the William Dawson Research Chair in Film and Visual Culture, an affiliation with Art History and Communications, and the directorship of the Interdisciplinary Program in World Cinemas and the Moving Image Research Laboratory.
My work has won numerous awards from the major film studies associations in North America and Europe, including BAFTTS, the Kraszna-Krausz Foundation, SCMS, and the Willy Haas Prize in Germany.
In my teaching and research, I often ask how ideas about moving image media (their potentials, uses, and forms) become intelligible in different times and places in relation to changing ecologies of media, modes of vision, forms of knowledge production, and broader cultural and political forces. My work is highly interdisciplinary, and I am particular drawn to objects and questions that challenge us to rethink sedimented methodological, intellectual and disciplinary boundaries. In recent years, I have done extensive work on early film advertising, which I understand not simply as a separate sphere of “useful” cinema existing alongside “proper” film history, but as a phenomenon integral to broader techniques of vision in modernity. Advertising theory and practice fundamentally transformed modernity’s understanding of what it meant to interact with images, and it played a crucial–if still neglected–role in spheres such as experimental film, animation, montage, and the history of early mobile screen technologies.
Currently, I am working on several projects examining early film theory, the history of film societies, ‘useful animation’ and digital screen cultures.
I serve on the executive committee of Domitor and the editorial board of the journal Intermédialités. I am a member of several research groups and networks, including ARTHEMIS, the Media History Research Centre, the German Studies Screen Network, the Agency of the Image (Scottish network for visual culture) and BTWH (Berkeley, Tübingen, Wien, Harvard): The Emergence of German Modernity.
Awards and Honours
- Society of Cinema and Media Studies, Award of Distinction for Best Edited Collection, 2017
- Huffington Post’s ‘Best Film Books of 2016’ (for Promise of Cinema)
- Society of Cinema and Media Studies, Kovács Essay Award, 2015
- Willy Haas Award for best monograph on German Cinema (winner 2014, finalist 2016)
- BAFTSS Essay Award, 2015
- BAFTSS Best Book Award (honourable mention) 2015
- Kraszna-Krausz Book Award, Category of the Moving Image (finalist) 2015
- Dawson Research Chair for German Cinema, McGill University, 2010-2014
- SCSM Kovács Essay Award, honorable mention, (2012)
- McGill Arts Award for Distinction in Research (2008)
- British Academy Small Grant, Principal Investigator (2016)
- SSHRC (Canada) Insight Grant, Principal Investigator (2013-2017)
- IFK (International Research Centre for Cultural Studies, Vienna), Senior Research Fellowship (2014)
- CFI (Canadian Foundation for Innovation), Leaders Opportunity Fund to build the Moving Image Research Laboratory, Principal Investigator (2009-2013)
- FQRSC (Québec) team grant for the Advanced Research Team for the History and Epistemology of Moving Image Studies, Co-Investigator (2013-2017)
- FQRSC Early Career Research Grant, Principal Investigator (2010-2013)
- DAAD Workshop Grant (2010)
- SSHRC Standard Research Grant, Principal Investigator (2009-2012)
- SSHRC Conference Grant, Principal Investigator (2010)
- McGill Arts Undergraduate Improvement Fund (AUIF) grant (2009)
- DAAD grant for the research group “Project on European Cinemas” (2008)
Books and Collections
The Promise of Cinema: German Film Theory 1907-1933, co-edited with Anton Kaes and Nicholas Baer. University of California Press, 2016, 680pp. See also website. Award of Distinction for Best Edited Collection, SCMS; finalist for the Willy Haas Award for best book on German cinema 2016; included among Huffington Post's 'Best Film Books of 2016'
Walter Ruttmann and the Cinema of Multiplicity: Avant-Garde – Advertising – Modernity. Amsterdam University Press, Film Cultures in Transition Series, 2014, 255pp. Winner of the Willy Haas Prize for best publication on German cinema, honourable mention for BAFTSS award for best book, finalist for the Kraszna Krausz award in the category of moving image.
Moving Pictures. Moving Bodies: Dance in Early German Cinema. Co-edited with Barbara hales. Special issue of Seminar 46:3 (2010).
Prises de rue. La rue dans le cinéma européen contemporain. Co-edited with Viva Paci and Alanna Thain. Special issue of CiNéMAS 21:1 (2011).
Rythmer, rhythming. Special issue of Intermédialités, co-edited with Laurent Guido (2011), 272pp.
“Advertising and Animation: From Invisible Hand to Attention Management,” in Locating Film Advertising, Nico de Klerk and Patrick Vonderau (Palgrave/BFI Publishing, 2016), 93-104.
“Learning to Love the Movies: Puzzles, Participation and Cinephilia in Interwar Film Magazines,” Film History 4 (2016), 1-45.
“The Realm of the Earth: Simultenous Broadcasting and World Politics in Interwar Cinema,” Intermédialités, 23 (2016). Read article on Érudit.
“‘Le Royaume de la terre’: technologies de diffusion simultanée et politique mondiale dans le cinéma de l’entre-deux-guerres.” Forthcoming in Les Technologies dans les médias, ed. Laurent Guido and Alain Boillat (Lausanne: L’Age de l’homme, 2015).
“From the Astonished Spectator to the Spectator in Movement: Exhibition Advertisements in 1920s Germany and Austria.” Canadian Journal of Film Studies 23:1 (2014), 2-29.
“Fidelity, Capture and the Sound Advertisement: Julius Pinschewer and Rudi Klemm’s Die chinesische Nachtigall.” Zeitgeschichte, 2014, no. 2, 90-102.
“Im Bilde mitschwingen: Rhythmus in Reklamewissenschaft und Avantgardefilm der 20er Jahre,” in gehen, fließen, blühen. Naturverhältnisse in der Kunst, ed. Ines Lindner (Verlag für moderne Kunst, 2014), 95-109.
“Bewegungskunst: Film and Dance,” in Hans Richters Rhythmus 21. Schlüsselfilm der Moderne (2013): 58-73.
“Taking it to the Street: Screening the Advertising Film in Weimar Cinema.” Screen 54:4 (2013), 463-479. Winnter of BAFTSS award for best article.
“Cutting Through the Archive: Cross-Sectional Montage and Images of the World in Weimar Visual Culture.” New German Critique 120, vol 40, no 3 (fall 2013), 1-40.
“The Ambivalence of Ornament: Silhouette Advertisements in Print and Film in Early Twentieth-Century Germany.” Art History 36:4 (September 2013), 784-809.
“Absolute Advertising: Walter Ruttmann and the Weimar Advertising Film.” Cinema Journal 52:4 (2013), 49-73. Winner of the SCMS award for best article in a journal.
“1986: Harun Farocki releases Wie man sieht: The Texture of the Essay Film.” In: The New History of German Cinema. Ed. Jennifer Kapzcinski and Michael Richardson. Rochester: Camden House, 2012: 490-496.
“28 March 1935. Hitler attends the premiere of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph des Willens at the Ufa-Palast am Zoo in Berlin.” Article co-authored with Kai Sicks. The New History of German Cinema, 255-261.
“Les rythmes du désir filmique: Film ist. a girl & a gun de Gustav Deutsch.” Introduction to artist’s dossier on Gustav Deutsch. In: Rythmer, rhythmize (2011), 209-216. Read on Érudit.
Interview with Gustav Deutsch, conducted with André Habib (spring 2011). link
“Moving Picture Puzzles: Training Perception in the Weimar ‘Rebus’ Films.” Screen 51 (2010), 197-218. Honorable mention, Kovács Essay Award, SCMS, 2012.
“Advertising, Rhythm and the Filmic Avant-Garde in Weimar.” October 131 (2010): 23-50.
“Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit” and "Der weiße Rausch," In: Filmgenres: Sportfilm, ed. Kai Marcel Sicks. Stuttgart: Reclam, 2010: 43-47, 62-65.
“Harun Farocki’s Symphony of a Postindustrial City.” Intermédialités. Special issue on Farocki, ed. Philippe Despoix (2009): 69-86
“Between the Street and the Apartment. Disturbing the Spaces of Fortress Europe in Michael Haneke.” Studies in European Cinema 5 (2008): 117-131. Hungarian translation published as “Az utca és a lakás között” in the journal Quarterly on Film History and Theory. Special issue on Michael Haneke,15:4 (2011), pp. 42–52.
“The Heart Machine: Rhythm and Body in Weimar Film and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.” Modernism/modernity 14 (2007): 225-248.
I would welcome projects from students working in various areas of European cinema (particularly German and French), media history and media archaeology, film and modernity, forms of sponsored/ephemeral film, screens and visual culture, material cultures of film, intermedial relations, digital cinema and theory, and experimental/avant-garde. I am particularly interested in archival-based work, intermedial studies, and theoretical work that challenges us to rethink our ideas about what cinema is or has been.
I am currently supervising: