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Professor Michael Cowan

Head of Department

My degrees are in German, French and Cultural Studies, and I have taught at universities in Canada, Germany, the UK and the US, and my research has won awards from the major Film Studies associations in North America and Europe.

My work encompasses film, visual culture and media history, with a focus on early European film (especially German, but also French, Italian, UK). In both my teaching and research, I am interested in understanding the changing role that visual media have played within longer histories of knowledge, the self and culture. My approach is highly interdisciplinary, and I am particularly drawn to border objects  that challenge us to rethink sedimented categories (methodological, intellectual and disciplinary). My work on advertising film, for example, examined the crucial role that advertising played both in modernist/avant-garde film culture (in experimental filmanimationmontage, and mobile screen technologies) and, more broadly, in transforming modernity’s understanding of what it meant to interact with images.

Currently, I am working on several projects examining the early history of film societies, film journals and digitization, ‘useful animation,’ early interactive cinema, and digital screen cultures. I serve on the executive committee of Domitor, where I am overseeing the Domitor Journals Project with Patrick Ellis. I am also on the editorial board of the journal Intermédialités and a member of several research groups and networks, including the Media History Research Centre, the German Studies Screen Network and BTWH (Berkeley, Tübingen, Wien, Harvard): The Emergence of German Modernity.


Scholarly Awards

  • Limina Award (Italy) for best international Film Studies book, 2017
  • Society of Cinema and Media Studies, Award of Distinction for Best Edited Collection, 2017
  • Willy Haas Award for best book on German cinema, shortlisted 2016, winner 2014
  • Society of Cinema and Media Studies, Kovács Essay Award, 2015
  • 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)


Recent Grants and Fellowships

  • Humboldt Fellowship for Experienced Researchers – Fellow at Cinepoetics (Berlin) and the Institut für Medienwissenschaft (Marburg), 2018-19
  • 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, cancelled due to birth of child)
  • 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)


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.

Hans Richters Rhythmus 21. Schlüsselfilm der Moderne. BTWH series of rediscovered key texts in German Modernity. Co-edited with Kurt Beals et. al. Königshausen & Neumann, 2013, 218pp.

Technology’s Pulse. Essays on Rhythm in German Modernism. London: IGRS Books, University of London, 2012, 242pp.

Moving Pictures. Moving Bodies: Dance in Early German Cinema. Co-edited with Barbara hales. Special issue of Seminar 46:3 (2010).

Cult of the Will. Nervousness and German Modernity. Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008/2012.

Leibhaftige Moderne. Körper in Kunst und Massenmedien 1918-1933., Co-edited with Kai Marcel Sicks. Transcript, 2005: 381pp.

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.


Selected Articles

“Games of Empire 1.0: Excavating the Cinematic Shooting Gallery,” forthcoming in NECSUS: European Journal of Media Studies

“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.

“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.





Research supervision

I welcome PhD enquiries in any area related to my work. (German film, media history, etc.).  I also strongly encourage applicants to consider forms of co-supervision, for which there are many opportunities for competitive funding (offering fees and maintenance). These include:

-Co-supervision across Schools at St Andrews in view of a St Andrews Interdisciplinary Doctoral Scholarship. We have a particularly strong framework for a) projects on German cinema or European film co-supervised with Modern Languages or b) topics in media history or visual culture co-supervised with Art History.

-Co-supervision across Scottish universities in view of an AHRC-SGSAH application.

-Co-tutelle with European universities in view of a St Andrews Inter-European Doctoral Scholarship


I am currently supervising: