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Professor Michael Cowan

Head of Department

I am a cultural historian of film and media with backgrounds in German, French and Cultural Studies, and I have taught at universities in Canada, Germany, the UK and the US.

My work encompasses film, visual culture and media history, with a focus on German and European contexts (and a particular specialty in Weimar visual culture). In my research and teaching, I am interested in examining the place of audio-visual media within changing configurations of self, knowledge and culture from the 19th century to the present. Coming from an interdisciplinary background, I am particularly drawn to research questions and objects that challenge us to rethink sedimented assumptions and categories (methodological, intellectual and disciplinary). My work on advertising film, for example, examined how advertising helped to transform modernity’s understanding of what it meant to interact with images, as well its little-known role in modernist and avant-garde culture (in experimental filmanimationmontage, and mobile screen technologies).

My recent work has focused questions of film print culture, photographic puzzles, genealogies of digital spectatorship (e.g. interactive cinema), scientific animation, and digital screen cultures. I am currently at work on a book project: The Social Life of Film: An Archaeology of the Film Society, which examines the role of early film societies in shaping ideas about cinema when it was still a ‘new’ medium. I am also preparing two curatorial projects: a film series titled ‘Weimar Shorts’ for the Giornate del Cinema Muto (Pordenone, October 2019), and an exhibition on animal locomotion, photography and film highlighting the St Andrews scientist James Bell Pettigrew (St Andrews, October 2019).


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, winner 2014, shortlisted 2016
  • 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.

Technology’s Pulse. Essays on Rhythm in German Modernism. London: IGRS Books, University of London, 2012, 242pp.  Republished in Editions Rhuthmos 2018.

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.

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

“Interactive Media and Imperial Subjects: Excavating the Cinematic Shooting Gallery,”  NECSUS: European Journal of Media Studies. Spring 2018 (online)

“Advertising and Animation: From Invisible Hand to Attention Management,” in Films that Sell: Moving Images and Advertising, ed. Patrick Vonderau, Bo Florin and Nico de Klerk (Bloomsbury, 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.

“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. Winner 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.  Intermédialités 16 (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 in 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 enjoy supervising a wide range of topics in film and media history, German or French cinema, digital studies, intermedial topics (e.g. film and video games), film theory and more. I also strongly encourage applicants to consider potential forms of co-supervision, which offer opportunities for competitive funding (fees and maintenance). Current funding opportunities include:

-St Leonards Interdisciplinary Doctoral Scholarships for co-supervisions across Schools within the university. I have strong connections to Modern Languages (for topics in German, French or European cinema) and to Art History (for topics in media history or visual culture).

-St Leonards Inter-European Doctoral Scholarships for theses co-supervised with European universities. I have connections to many film and media studies programmes on the continent.

-AHRC-SGSAH scholarships for theses co-supervised between two Scottish universities.

Please be aware that deadlines for the above funding lines are early and you should inquire as soon as possible.


I am currently supervising: