I understand film and media studies as a discipline that both owes and offers something to nearly every neighboring field in the arts and humanities. My courses are comparative in their approach and designed to equip students with a set of fundamental critical skills. My courses take questions as their starting points (What is film and/or media history? What is a minor image or visual practice? What is the relationship between analog and digital artifacts?) rather than fixed canons, genres, or historical periods. I encourage students to think creatively and flexibly, to pivot between close readings and abstract ideas. I try to foster comparative thinkers who are willing to bring the auteur into conversation with the amateur, to reconsider what we assume to be true about film artifacts and archives, to think about what early cinema might share with contemporary media, or to step away from the visual spectacle of cinema to trace the threads of power and politics that intersect at every site of image production. This approach to the discipline not only trains students to think within the movements of film and media, but also, I hope, invites students to follow questions beyond the screen.
I also understand my classroom as deeply connected to the place and the people I teach. In short, teaching never happens in a vacuum. When I began my career in Scotland, I was regularly the only American in a room of students who came from all over the world. I soon realized that my training had overprivileged a certain kind of canon—and I needed to center other cinemas and other experiences. I remain committed to creating a classroom environment built on principles of inclusion, equity, and empathy. The pandemic exacerbated the inequalities and material differences that are always with us in the classroom. Some of those differences were ameliorated by our return to campus, but others remain—including, for example, differences in students’ starting points and preparation, differences in the roles that they are asked to play in their families, differences in the resources that they have for experimentation and risk-taking, and differences in how they are able to use their free time (or if they have any real labor-free time). The pandemic strengthened my belief that the contemporary higher education classroom demands non-hierarchical methods, deep empathy, and a careful attention to the diverse needs of each learner.
I teach a really wide range of courses—from our most basic introduction to film and media, to upper-level seminars, to our Senior Capstone course—so the work we do and my aims in the classroom can vary pretty widely across those courses. That said, I usually emphasize four fundamental skills across my classes: (1) close reading of visual and textual forms; (2) comparative thinking across concrete and abstract claims; (3) the development of a thesis; and (4) the construction of a motivated, well-supported, and carefully argued essay. Students practice and develop these skills through classroom discussion, short writing exercises, scaffolded drafting and revising, supported peer review, and final projects.
Whenever possible, my classes incorporate forms of hands-on or experiential learning. In Introduction to Film, students learn about early forms of cinema and cinematography by making their own 50-second single-shot film. I have taken students on field trips to one of the last remaining video stores in the state of Pennsylvania and to an archive of electronic media in New York. In Sound Theory, we go on sound walks together around campus, practice R. Murray Shafer’s sound exercises in ‘ear cleaning,’ attend performances at the Williams Center, and try to hear the sounds of silence in the classroom. In Minor Cinemas, we learn to tape bits of leaves and grass to 16mm film and animate directly on celluloid.
It is really hard to overstate how visual technologies and contemporary media shape our everyday lives in the 21st century. I strongly believe that students should spend at least one semester studying moving images and/or contemporary media. One of my mentors in graduate school used to say, ‘Film is about everything—and always about itself.’ In other words, film (and media, I think) incessantly point at the world ‘out there,’ to a world of human culture and politics, to questions of representation, identity, technology, the list goes on and on. But film and media also point back at themselves—demand that we interrogate their particular ways of seeing and mediating things. It is this twofold movement—looking at the world and studying how visual technologies represent it—that I encourage students to make in the classroom and take away from our discussions when the semester is over. Understanding one film, one set of images, or one particular platform is not all that useful—things change so swiftly, after all—but developing the capacity to deeply interrogate how images and technologies work, how they address you and work upon you, and how they fundamentally shape what you can know about the world (and what you can’t) is crucial.
My Research Interests
I am an early and silent film scholar who focuses on film history, historiography, and archive studies. Basically, I am interested in how film scholars write and think about film history, in the particular ways film artifacts mediate history, and in the role archives play in both preserving and erasing history. I am also deeply interested in the traces of 19th-century historical thought that continue to inform contemporary film and media studies. My first book, Bad Film Histories: Ethnography and the Early Archivemoves across anthropology, historical studies, literary theory, and film and media studies to make the case for new approaches to the historical study of film. More recently, I have been working on a second book project, tentatively titled Images at the End of the World, which considers the historical expressions of contemporary images—and questions the lines we have tended to draw between analog and digital artifacts. I am also editing a special issue of Feminist Media Histories, which will focus on the role feminist media historians have played in challenging historiographic conventions and developing a range of experimental, resistant, and groundbreaking methods in the field.
I studied French literature as an undergraduate student and, with the help of some terrific teachers, became fascinated by writers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries whose work was influenced by the arrival of visual technologies like photography and film. In graduate school, I continued to explore the connections (and disconnections) between texts and images, how different forms of writing (in history and anthropology) influenced the first decades of film practice and, in turn, how photomechanical reproduction changed how we think about writing, record keeping, and historical meaning.
Many years later, my work remains focused on understanding how visual technologies—like photography, film, and contemporary visual tools—structure how we see and experience the world, how we remember our lives and families, how we mourn and make sense of things. Film and photography are never passive tools; they don’t just record what exists. They are active in shaping what we can possibly know about the world around us. I find that boundlessly interesting.
I came to Lafayette after teaching for several years at a large research university in Scotland. I loved living in Scotland, but I wanted to find an institution that really valued undergraduate education and offered the kind of learning environment that I had benefited from as a student myself—small classes, one-on-one mentorship, adventurous pedagogy. At Lafayette, I have found a community of colleagues who are committed to undergraduate education and profoundly invested in the success and well-being of their students. I also feel really lucky to be a part of the Film and Media Studies program. Our students are a joy to teach. They are risk takers, collaborators, deep thinkers, and makers with their eyes on the world around them. And I just could not ask for better colleagues than the ones I work with down the hill on the Arts Campus. Well before I arrived, they built a program based on principles of equity, inclusion, and mutual respect. I feel very grateful to be able to work and teach with them. It’s a special place.
Awards and Honors
Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung for Experienced Researchers, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (2021-2022)
Richard King Mellon & Walter A. ’59 and Catherine R. Scott Faculty Research Fellowship, Lafayette College (2018)
Images at the End of the World: Historicity and Mourning in the Twenty-First Century (manuscript in progress, funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation)
Bad Film Histories: Ethnography and the Early Archive (University of Minnesota Press, February 2019)
New Silent Cinema, co-editor (Routledge/American Film Institute, 2015)
“Body Parts: Feeling Labor in Early Film Color,”in Incomplete: The Feminist Possibilities of Unfinished Film, ed. Alix Beeston and Stefan Solomon (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2023)
“Weird Loops: Climate Change, Drone Cinema, and the Work of Mourning,”in Cinema of Exploration: Essays on an Adventurous Film Practice, edited by James Leo Cahill and Luca Caminati (Routledge/American Film Institute, 2020)
“Let It Burn: Film Historiography in Flames,” Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture, 41.1 (Winter 2019)
“Mixed Media: Ethno-zoography and the Archives de la Planète”in The Zoo: Images of Exhibition and Encounter, ed. Michael Lawrence and Karen Lury(Palgrave Macmillan, 2016)
“The Maison and Its Minor: Lumière(s), Film History, and the Early Archive,” Cinema Journal 52:4 (Summer 2013)
“Shadow Lives: Josephine Baker and the Body of Cinema,” Framework 54:1 (Spring 2013)