The Domitor Student Essay Award is offered annually in order to stimulate interest in the field of early cinema studies, to involve young scholars and archivists in the activities of our organization, and to reduce the gap between established and emerging generations of scholars and archivists of early cinema. The deadline is typically September 1, so that the winner can be announced at the annual General Assembly in October. Each award consists of a monetary prize (US$500) and assistance in obtaining publication of the winning essay in a scholarly film history journal.
The winners of the 2021 Domitor Student Essay Award are Sasha Crawford-Holland (University of Chicago) for “Experimental Empiricism: Lucien Bull’s Avant-Garde Science,” and Xiaoyu Xia (University of California, Berkeley) for “Fighting with a Brush: Calligraphic Intertitles and Early Chinese Cinema.” Crawford-Holland’s research offers a lucid exploration of the research of a relatively forgotten pioneer bridging chronophotography with early scientific filmmaking. In an essay that draws as comfortably from the history and philosophy of science as it does from cultural history and the avant-garde, Crawford-Holland demonstrates why Lucien Bull’s work obviates the two cultures (art vs sciences) paradigm and has broad reaching implications for the way we think of time, space and movement in early cinema history and theory. Xiaoyu Xia’s ground-breaking essay moves beyond the reductive understanding of intertitles relayed by many Western-centric approaches to film history. Through a close analysis of the 1927 film The Romance of the Western Chamber (Xixiang ji), Xia convincingly demonstrates how different aesthetic traditions have led Chinese filmmakers to go beyond the words and images dichotomy underpinning Western cinema. The Award Committee also acknowledges Lance Lomax (Texas Tech University) for “Screens, Image, and Empire: Locating Transnationality and Trauma in Early Japanese Cinema and Society,” an ambitious essay addressing the complexities of Japanese film history and showing how imported visual technologies were repurposed to serve Japan’s imperial aspirations. Congratulations to all!
The winner of the 2019 Domitor Student Essay Award is Panpan Yang (University of Chicago) for “Enchanted Space: Stop-motion Tricks in Chinese Silent Cinema.” The essay explores the early history of Chinese animation through a fascinating investigation of the apparition of the first stop-motion tricks in Chinese live action films. Supported by impressive archival work, Yang’s research challenges traditional understandings of the ‘shot’ in stop-motion animation, using photography theory to define what she coins as ‘the enchanted space’; the moment the photographic trick affects its audiences. The Award Committee also acknowledges Chaorong Hua (Yale University) for “Animal and Accident: On the Cinema of Contingency” which offers brilliant insights on the ‘distracting’ presence of animals in early films and its implication for film theory and Shruti Narayanswamy (University of St. Andrews) for “Women’s Work in ‘Sanitising’ Cinema in 1920s Bombay” which explores, within the context of the medicalization of colonial Bombay, the role of purdah practices in shaping the first non-commercial female cinema audiences in Bombay. Congratulations to Panpan, Chaorong and Shruti for their wonderful contributions to the field!
The winner of the 2018 Domitor Student Essay Award is Robin Cauche (Université Lyon 2 | Université de Montréal) for “Relire le déclin des illustrated songs: trois discours de crise dans Moving Picture World en 1908.” The essay maps the early decline (1907-1908) of illustrated songs in American nickelodeons by identifying a series of industrial crises that were documented by the trade journal, Moving Picture World. Through fine-grained archival research that draws on the resources of the Media History Digital Library Project, Cauche demonstrates that the decline of the illustrated song was not simply a matter of popularity but stemmed from industrial strife and, most notably, rampant piracy practices, which raise intriguing questions about copyright and the circulation of sound in the early cinema period. The Award Committee would also like to acknowledge Elyse Singer (The Graduate Center, CUNY) for “‘Pauvre Folle!’: Resilient Gestures of the Madwoman in Early Cinema,” which offers a brilliant analysis of the “topos of the madwoman” that moved between a variety of media forms in the early 1900s. Congratulations to Robin and Elyse for their wonderful contributions to the field!
The winner of the 2017 Domitor Student Essay Award was Ali Yalgin (Columbia University) for “Condensation and Uplift: A Doll’s House (1911) Between Stage and Screen.” This essay offers a well-researched and insightful analysis of a neglected adaptation by the Thanhouser Company of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 stage play, A Doll’s House. Focusing on the film’s complex balance of theatrical and cinematic aesthetics, Yalgin considers how the adaptation artfully wielded the 1-reel format to translate Ibsen’s highbrow Scandinavian theater to popular film audiences in America. Rather than simply rehearse familiar discourses on stage-to-screen practices during the transitional period, Yalgin masterfully reveals the role that intermediality plays in shaping how we understand everything from marketing and morality to questions about gender at the level of form in A Doll’s House. The Award Committee also acknowledged Mohannad Ghawanmeh (UCLA) for “News of the Nation: Mohamed Bayoumi’s Newsfilms in the Newly Independent Egypt, 1923-1932,” which skillfully interweaves political and national history with important film historical work, shining a bright light on an understudied and undervalued region; and Katerina Korola (University of Chicago) for “‘Shadows are Hard to Get Hold of…’: A Media Archaeology of Artificial Clouds, Smoke, and Atmospheric Design,” which traces a complex and extraordinary history from the atmospheric aesthetics and special effects of Weimar cinema back to 19th-century meteorology, Romanticism, and science fiction. Congratulations to Ali, Mohannad, and Katerina for their outstanding contributions to the field!
The winner of the 2016 Domitor Student Essay Award was Allain Daigle (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) for “Not A Betting Man: Stanford, Muybridge, and the Palo Alto Wager-Myth.” This essay tackles one of the oldest myths in pre-cinema history, that of the supposed bet on a horse’s “un-supported transit” which Muybridge’s photo-sequence has been reported to have proven for the benefit of Leland Stanford. Although questioned from as early as 1915, Daigle shows how claim and counter-claim have reverberated through the large and continuing literatures on Muybridge, Stanford, and indeed photography’s place in the narratives of modern science and cinema. Going well beyond merely identifying degrees of veracity, the author impressively identifies what has been at stake in various claims, in terms of ideology, ownership and ultimately how we write the history of complex multi-agent developments in technology and science. In addition, the Award Committee recognizes Alison Reiko Loader (Concordia University) for “A Rational and Entertaining Species of Amusement to Bipeds of All Ages: The Splendid Camera Obscura.” Congratulations to Allain and Alison!
The winner of the 2015 Domitor Student Essay Award was Pao-Chen Tang (University of Chicago) for “Of Dogs and Hot Dogs: Elements of Distractions in Early Silent Shorts.” This essay deals with an often noticed but little theorized aspect of early film: animals. With a nod to thinkers such as Heidegger and Levinas who have dealt with the conceptual animal – as well as perhaps the abundance of online cat videos (why not dogs?) — this essay analyzes a number of early shorts and cartoons in which animals (and their commercial byproducts) appear both attractive and distractive. Creating a family of themes placed within a suggestive philosophical framework, the essay offers the study of early films as a key to better understanding modernity. In addition, the Award Committee recognizes two other outstanding entries: Swagato Chakravorty (Yale) for “Screen Architectures and (Expanded) Screen Practices: Space, Movement, Spectatorship”; and Anna Shechtman (Yale) for “Cinematic Pictorialism: Sadakichi Hartmann and the Esthetic Significance of the Motion Picture.” Congratulations to all!
The winner of the 2014 Domitor Student Essay Award was Dimitrios Latsis (University of Iowa) for “Landscape in Motion: Muybridge and the Origins of Chronophotography.” This essay is an important and original contribution on time and space in Muybridge’s chronophotography. The author’s thesis is supported through careful consideration of both Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs and his equipment, demonstrating how a meticulous account of technological history can be reconciled with careful analyses of representation. The essay shows how media archaeology informs contemporary concerns.
The winner of the 2013 Domitor Student Essay Award was Jack Rundell (University of York, UK) for “’Here To-day’: Charlie Chaplin, Mass Amusement and the Temporality of the Craze.” The members of the awards committee were particularly impressed by Rundell’s notion of a “craze temporality” and its relation to early mass amusement culture and by the way he intertwines film analysis with the discussion of publicity materials and popular songs. In addition, the Domitor awards committee decided to recognize Nadi Tofighian’s essay “Early Cinema Audiences in Colonial British Malaya” and Thomas Carrier-Lafleur’s essay “Les discours cinématographiques de Marcel Proust Un autre ‘cas’ pour l’épistémè 1900” with a Special Mention.
The winner of the 2012 Domitor Student Essay Award was Meredith A. Bak (UC Santa Barbara) for “Seeing Things: Optical toys and the Young Nineteenth-Century Spectator.” The members of the awards committee found that the essay is a keen analysis of optical toys and perception in early cinema and visual culture. Moreover, the awards committee decided to recognize Julie Lavelle’s (Indiana University) essay “Intermedial Seriality in the 1910s: Universal’s Lucille Love, Girl of Mystery” with an Honorable Mention. The author combines an analysis of storytelling across different media with reception and gender studies in a striking and convincing manner. Congratulations to Meredith and Julie!
The winner of the 2011 Domitor Student Essay Award was Laura Horak (UC Berkeley) for “Landscape, Vitality, and Desire.” The members of the Award Committee remarked, “In the essay, Horak provides a clear, compelling, and extremely well-documented argument about constructions of gender and race during the transitional period, drawing upon close readings of archival films, attention to relevant intertexts, careful analysis of extrafilmic documentation, and a mastery of the secondary literature of early cinema studies. Congratulations to Laura!”
The winner of the Domitor 2010 Student Essay Award was Andy Uhrich (Indiana University), for “Ascertaining the Origins of Films Screened in the Illustrated Lecture A Pictorial History of Hiawatha (1904).” The members of the Award Committee felt that Uhrich’s essay was “very well-researched and argued,” and singled out this “detailed and carefully argued reconstruction” of A Pictorial History of Hiawatha both for “assessing the available documents in a very nuanced and cautious manner” and for “foregrounding archival issues that have been of great interest for Domitor.”
The winner of the Domitor 2009 Student Essay Award was Brian R. Jacobson (University of Southern California), for an article about Georges Méliès’s first film studio and glass-and-iron architecture. His essay, entitled “The ‘imponderable fluidity’ of modernity: Georges Méliès and the architectural origins of cinema”, has been published in Early Popular Visual Culture (Vol. 8, No. 2, 2010).
The winner of the Domitor 2008 Student Essay Award was Philippe Gauthier (Université de Montréal), for “La salle de cinema comme lieu institutionnel et cadre de signification : l’exemple des Hale’s Tours dans l’historiographie traditionnelle.” The reading committee thought that this was a well-researched, well-written, and clearly presented thesis that is committed to re-thinking early film history. His essay has been published in Film History (Vol. 21, No. 4, 2009).