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CfP for Special Issue of Early Popular Visual Culture : Early Cinema in the British Empire

 Early Cinema in the British Empire

CfP for Special Issue of Early Popular Visual Culture

Guest edited by James M. Burns and Mario Slugan

The dominant approach to early cinema (c.1893-1918) has been to treat it as an emblem of modernity ushering in the new age of urbanization and leisure on par with technological inventions such as the railroad. This is a direct consequence of a prevalent focus of early cinema historians on the North American and European context even when discussing cinema as a part of the colonial project. More recent work has started to break away from this trend. Scholars have produced work on early cinema in Africa (Convents 1986), Southeast Asia (Tofighian 2013), Japan (Gerow 2010), Latin America (López 2000; Navitski 2017), Brazil (Conde 2018), China (Zhang 2005), and in German (Fuhrmann 2015), Dutch (Ruppin 2016), and British colonies (Burns 2013). Similarly, historians with the knowledge of local languages have started to integrate colonial early cinema histories into histories of national cinemas, mostly Asian ones (Deocampo 2017a), with the most extensive contributions focusing on China (Zhang 2005, Yeh 2018), India (Chatterjee 2011; Mahadevan 2015; Dass 2016), and the Philippines (Deocampo 2017b, c). Yet, a large-scale study of early cinema in the British colonies is still missing.

This absence is particularly striking because the period up to 1918 under investigation saw crucial developments in the history of the Empire and cinema alike. In the former case, the British Empire undertook some of the largest colonial expansion in its history, bridging Africa from Cairo to Cape, acquiring substantial territories in West Africa, and peaking in territory with the 1919 Versailles Treaty (Ferguson 2004). In the latter, the period saw the worldwide institutionalisation of cinema as a set of material practices including production, promotion, distribution, exhibition, and reception which would by the end of World War I come to be dominated by Hollywood. Cinema, moreover, was widely available to the peoples in the Empire and, unlike newspapers, was not constrained by (any) language literacy. At the same time, this was also the period when cinema was radically different from the form that the present-day audiences are accustomed to.

We, therefore, invite papers which investigate early cinema in its various forms – production, distribution, exhibition, and reception – in the British colonies. We are interested in case studies (within specific colonies), comparatist approaches (across colonies), and more theoretical and methodological investigations alike. And we are especially interested in the local audiences and sources in local languages. Topics may include (any combination of) but are by no means limited to:

  • where in the colonies could the films be seen? (Large urban centres, small towns, villages, labour centres, moving exhibition venues, permanent exhibition venues)
  • what was the structure of cinema audiences in the colonies? (Race, ethnicity, language, class, occupation, gender, age, religion, etc.)
  • what films were exhibited? (Titles, themes, genres, country of origin, film programmes shown, etc.)
  • how were the films distributed? (Traveling showmen, film companies, industrious exhibitors, etc.)
  • what was the role of local peoples in the film business? (Film pioneers, participation in cinema as a business from production and distribution to exhibition and reception, etc.)
  • where and how in the colonies were the films produced? (Itinerant production, local production, early studios, etc.)
  • what discourses surrounded cinema? (Promotion, advertising, reviews, discourses on colonialism, modernity, and nationalism, etc.)
  • how was cinema dealt with by the colonial authorities? (Promotion, regulation, censorship, etc.)
  • how did the local audiences engage films? (Reasons behind attending film screenings, the effects on the audiences, audiences’ thoughts, etc.)
  • (how) can we reconstruct local audience engagement given the patchy nature of the archive?
  • what sources are available for the study of early cinema in the colonies in local languages?
  • due to the itinerant nature of early cinema is it better to focus on routes between neighbouring Empires (in South and Southeast Asia, East Africa, etc.) as opposed to the British colonies alone?
  • is early cinema, a concept developed within European and North American context, with its standard cutoff somewhere between 1914 and 1918, a useful category to study cinema in the colonies to begin with?

The Special Issue of Early Popular Visual Culture is scheduled for publication in late 2024 (Volume 22, Issue 4).

Please send abstracts of around 300 words, together with the title, up to 5 references, a short bio, contact details and institutional affiliation to the guest editors of the Special Issue of Apparatus at for initial selection. Selected articles should typically be 6,000-10,000 words in length. They will undergo an editorial and double-blind peer reviewed process before final acceptance. (Please note that the selection of an abstract for development into a full article does not guarantee publication.)

Deadlines for abstracts: 22 December 2023

Notifications of acceptance: 8 January 2023

Deadlines for full articles:  29 April 2023