Film & Media Theory

The fields of “film studies,” “visual culture,” and “media theory” have emerged over the last decades to embrace a wide-range of interdisciplinary approaches to studying the cultural significance of media and the ways in which technologies of seeing are imbricated by various social and political concerns. On the one hand, visual culture is a new – and still hotly contested – discipline, traversing art history, film, photography, popular culture, literary theory, comparative literature, among other fields. On the other hand, many of the theoretical and historical roots of visual culture, film, and media theory can be traced back to the first third of the twentieth-century, reaching a high-point during the 1920s in Weimar Germany. It is here that the most significant and far-reaching elaborations of the impact of new media on mass culture – ranging from film, radio, photography, the photomontage, and the gramophone to advertising, theater, and the cabaret – were first articulated by the likes of Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, Alfred Doeblin, Bertolt Brecht, Raoul Hausmann, Hannah Hoech, Kurt Tucholsky, Ernst Juenger, and others. Years later, when Marshall McLuhan famously declared that the “medium is the message,” he drew attention to what had long since been recognized and astutely analyzed in Weimar Germany: Media, far from simply being the static containers of culture, are themselves a kind of content, which need to be studied in their historical, social, and cultural complexity.

Members of the department teach classes addressing a wide-range of problems in interdisciplinary media studies. including classical Weimar cinema and the film of New German Cinema. Professor Presner has developed a series of graduate-level courses on visual culture and media theory, including “Weimar Visual Culture” and “War and Media Theory.” He regularly teaches an undergraduate course on “The Holocaust in Film and Literature.” Additionally, he is currently working on an interdisciplinary research and curriculum development project called “Hypermedia Berlin,” based on his GE course of the same name. With Professor Zubiaurre, Professor Presner serves on the Digital Humanities faculty steering committee and both have a deep interest in new media studies and the emergent field of “urban humanities” (the interdisciplinary study of the modern metropolis).

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