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