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A Short History of World Cinema 1: from the Silents to WW2

Course Times & Enrolment

This course is currently unavailable.

Course Summary

What did past generations around the world watch at the cinema? How did films evolve from cheap fairground attractions to complex and sophisticated epics? When, how and why did the camera first start to move? How did technical advances turn a primitive art form into the vast industry we know today? Come and explore the films that made and changed history.

Course Details

Content of Course

1. The Cinema in the Beginning.

2. Moving Pictures, Mobile Camera: How the Camera Started to Move.

3. Animation and Other Conjuring Tricks: The Dawn of Special Effects.

4. Exoticism and Adventure: Birth of the Serial.

5. New Idols: Divas and Stars.

6. Hollywood: The Rise of an Industry.

7. Despite the Industry: Experimental Film.

8. The Advent of Sound.

9. Learning to Move Again: Re-Inventing Cinema for Sound.

10. The War: Propaganda and Escapism.

Teaching method(s)

This is a lecture-based course with film excerpts, analysis and extensive group discussion.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course the student should be able to:

  • Understand the continuity and disjunctions in the evolution of cinema as an art form;

  • Describe camera work and narrative techniques;

  • Evaluate the impact of the new art form and the relationship between technical development and artistic achievements;

  • Identify various directorial styles and perceive similarities and divergences between different periods and regions;

  • Identify genres, auteurs and schools;

  • Perceive the degree to which cinema, and popular culture in general, is influenced by politics and ideology.


Core Readings


  • Thomas Elsaesser and Adam Barker (eds.) - Early Cinema: Space, Frame, Narrative, London: BFI, 1990.

  • James Chapman - Cinemas of the World: Film and Society from 1895 to the Present, London : Reaktion, 2003

  • Geoffrey Nowell-Smith (ed.) - The Oxford History of World Cinema, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997

  • David Shipman - The Story of Cinema: An Illustrated History (2vols.), London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1982-84.

  • Kevin Brownlow - The Parade's Gone by, New York : Knopf, 1969.


  • Marc Ferro - Cinema and History, Detroit : Wayne State University Press, 1988.

  • Steve Neale - Cinema and Technology: Image, Sound, Colour, London : Macmillan Education Ltd., 1985.

  • David Bordwell - The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style & Mode of Production to 1960, London : Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985.

  • Peter Cowie - A Concise History of the Cinema, London: Zwemmer New York: Barnes, 1971.

  • Eric Rhode - A History of the Cinema from its Origins to 1970, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1978.

  • David Robinson - World Cinema: A Short History, London : Eyre Methuen, 1981.

  • John Hill and Pamela Church Gibson (eds.) - American Cinema and Hollywood: Critical Approaches, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Web Sources

Silent Era; online resources on silent cinema directors, films and schools

Bright Lights Film Journal; film reviews, essays and articles on classical and modern directors, films, schools

Offscreen; Canadian film journal dedicated to classical and modern cinema


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.