The Politics of Survey Cinema History Textbooks

I am excited to announce that I have published my essay “The Politics of Survey Cinema History Textbooks” in the peer-reviewed journal “The Projector: A Journal of Film, Media, and Culture.”

The genesis of this essay harkens back to when I was a community college instructor. There I taught “Introduction to Cinema History” nearly every quarter. Teaching that class over and over again caused me to think a lot about what is present in the cinema studies and what is absent or obscured. I kept asking myself: “Why? Why this material in this way?” I realized over time that there was no divine declaration of what is important in film history. The canon is a man-made construction. I started to interrogate the way cinema history is framed in several survey textbooks to interrogate their politics.


Cinema history textbooks have long served as an introduction to the discipline and, for as long as they have been used, they have been criticized. Writing in 1950, James Card states, “The student turns to the film histories and there finds confusion, gossip, and the wildest sort of speculation.” This article uncovers the politics of contemporary survey cinema textbooks, including Flashback: A Brief History of Film (2009) by Louis Giannetti and Scott Eyman, A Short History of the Movies (2010) by Gerald Mast and Bruce Kawin, Movie History: A Survey (2011) by Douglas Gomery and Clara Pafort-Overduin, and Film History: An Introduction (2018) by Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell. Building on work in education and cultural studies, the article analyzes problematic canonized patterns, which include a tendency to obscure the contributions of women and people of color, a preference for framing film as an art form, and a general simplification of film history that discourages students from thinking critically about what is missing or marginalized in the historical narrative.


Gregory, Ruth. 2022. “The Politics of Survey Cinema History Textbooks.” The Projector: A Journal of Film, Media, and Culture. Accessed January 01, 2022. https://www.theprojectorjournal.com/the-politics-of-cinema-history-textbooks.