About Our Project: Memories and Movies

Teaching Moviegoing Histories while Making Histories of Moviegoing. Welcome! This site is an accompaniment to the oral history component of Professor Paula Amad’s Moviegoing Histories undergraduate course that I teach in the Department of Cinematic Arts at the University of Iowa. In the course we explore film history from the perspective of the exhibition context (the where, how, why, and when of people’s experiences of viewing films), with a particular focus upon the silent cinema period.  We begin our studies with the premise that film history is not just about studying the films on the screen but must include the experiences of people in front of those screens.  We learn about film history and much more by zooming in on the social dimensions of the exhibition context, reading primary and secondary sources that uncover fascinating dimensions of the national, regional, racial, and gender components to the moviegoing experiences.

Missing Voices in the Historical Archive. We often wish that we could hear the voices of early moviegoers to learn first -hand from their memories. Responding to this absence of voices in the historical archive related to the early cinema experience,  a central assignment for the course is the production of oral history recordings of students’ grandparents or another senior member.  Students become the stewards and compilers of soon-to-disappear oral testimonies.  The assignment allows students to bridge their study of the early history of moviegoing audiences with their own personal and living history of moviegoing experiences as told to them by a relative or other senior person.  In addition to learning to appreciate the importance of the everyday types of histories contained in oral history recordings, students also acquire the professional skills of researching, preparing, interviewing and recording oral history interviews. Students also listen to and learn from the growing library of previous oral history recordings on the website, comparing and contrasting cinemagoing experiences across time and diverse identities.  We have already begun to see fascinating overlaps and striking divergences between people’s memories of moviegoing experiences. all of them illuminating issues of identity and the cinema experience, especially in the Midwest.  The site is an evolving course resource and a digital humanities project that is growing according to the needs of students. It integrates teaching and research.

Hear More From Students in the Course. For a short story about the course when it was first taught in Spring 2020, the semester in which COVID-19 radically transformed our learning environment and so much more, please see this article in the Cinematic Arts Newsletter by a participating student Sam Cox

Acknowledgments. Special thanks to Sam Cox, Olivia Milani, Jack McGuire, and Lucas Godlewski, who, as teaching practicum students in Fall 2020, Spring 2023 and Spring 2024, helped with the original design of this website and the sourcing of images for the oral recordings; and to Mark Anderson and Ethan De Gross from the Digital Studio at the University of Iowa who trained Sam, Olivia, and I to use WordPress with much patience and expertise. I am also deeply grateful to Professor Anita Jung for inspiration and Aiden Bettine (History PhD student) and Dr. John McKinley (oral historian, UI Center for Human Rights) for generous training and expert advice for all of us in the course on the practices of oral history.