• 1916 MA thesis cover page

    First Academic Thesis on Motion Pictures in the English Language


    In 1916, with movie-going exploding across the country and debates about the impact of movies on society heating up, the Department of Political Economy and Sociology at the State University of Iowa approves what is generally considered the first academic thesis on film in the English language: A Social Study of the Motion Picture by Ray Leroy Short. Short's thesis coincided with other early academic work on film, such as The Photoplay by the Harvard-based experimental psychologist Hugo Münsterberg (also published in 1916). One can find a few other examples of contemporaneous doctoral work happening in other countries, such as Emilie Altenloh's dissertation On the Sociology of Cinema, completed in Heidelberg in 1914.

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    An Early Promoter of Educational Film


    In 1932, amidst the national movement for Visual Education, university faculty found the Department of Visual Instruction, later renamed Bureau of Visual Instruction. It's one of several university-based centers for the production and distribution of educational film in the U.S. and becomes the main hub for the supply of films to schools in the region.  

  • Des Moines Register June 16 1935

    Leading the Way for Experimental Television


    In 1932, the university constructs an experimental television station, likely the first educational television station in the world. Between 1932 and 1939, channel W9XK broadcasts lectures on various topics, as well as drawing lessons and even student-produced radio plays.

  • Daily Iowan December 11 1940

    At the Forefront of the Film Society Movement


    In 1940, Art students from the university launch the university's first film society, dedicated to studying the history of film as an art form. Run under the aegis of the local Art Guild, the "University Film Society" holds sold-out screenings and film discussions each semester in the Fine Arts Building and at MacBride Hall. Like other film societies of this period (though founded earlier than most), the Iowa University Film Society draws on the 16mm prints from the MOMA Film Library, founded by Iris Barry in 1935. Titles from the society's initial seasons included The Thief of Bagdad (Raoul Walsh, 1924), Mother (Vsevelod Pudovkin, 1926), Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927) and The Plow that Broke the Plains (Pare Lorentz, 1936). Many of these titles would go on to form the early canon of Film Studies, which Iowa helped to invent (see below).

  • Iowa Quest march 1st 1954

    Pioneering Film Production as a University Discipline


    Amidst the rapid expansion of television in the post-WW2 era, the Department of Speech and Dramatic Arts inaugurates a new Division of Radio, Television and Film in 1952, serving both graduate and undergraduate students. The founding coincides with a $50,000 investment by the university to construct advanced film & television studios, which were housed in the famous Old Armory building up to the 1980s. During the 50s and 60s, the Division trained numerous television personnel and produced content for film and television across the region. The founding of this division in 1952 made UIowa one of the first universities in the country to offer advanced degrees in Film and TV Production.

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    Creating Film Analysis as an Academic Pursuit


    In 1957, film production student John Bennett Kuiper drew on the aesthetic impetus of the film society movement to craft an MA thesis titled Pictorial Composition in the Cinema, followed in 1960 by his PhD dissertation: An Analysis of Four Silent Films of Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein. With their focus on the aesthetic analysis, these graduate projects presage what would later become known as Film Studies. Graduate students in RTF would produce further dissertations on film aesthetics through the 1960s, focusing on filmmakers such as Harold Lloyd and Ingmar Bergman; film theorists including Vachel Lindsay and Hugo Münsterberg; and movements such as German Expressionism. Kuiper would go on to have an illustrious career, including teaching filmmaking at Iowa and serving as the Librarian of Congress for film. 

  • dudley andrew presidential lecture 1997

    Inventing the Field of Film Studies in the US


    In 1971, having just completed his dissertation in the English Department on film theorist André Bazin, Dudley Andrew is hired as an instructor of film aesthetics in the Department of Speech and Dramatic Arts. This marks the beginning of a phase of intense disciplinary formation, in which Iowa shapes the field of Film Studies as we know it. Under faculty such as Andrew, Rick Altman and Lauren Rabinowitz, a legion of field-defining PhD students come through our program, including David Bordwell, Mary Ann Doane, Aaron Gerow, Barbara Klinger, Patrice Petro, David Rodowick, Thomas Schatz, and more, with visitors including the likes of Thomas Elsaesser and the legendary theorist Christian Metz. Many of these faculty and students now grace the list of Career Achievement award winners at the Society of Cinema and Media Studies. At the same time, Iowa strengthens its reputation as a center for experimental filmmaking under the leadership of Franklin Miller.

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    Communications and Broadcast Era


    In the early 1980s, Cinema follows the newly created Department of Communication Studies. The new department  also acquires a new building on the site of the old Armory in 1985 (known today as the Becker Communication Studies Building or BCSB), replete with three new film & tv studios. Those studios—Studios A, B and C—are still used by students in Film and Video Production today. Many of the graduates from this period would populate the world of Broadcast TV and advertising.

  • Cinematic Arts 2019

    Cinematic Arts


    In 2002, Cinema joins the Department of Comparative Literature before becoming an independent unit—the Department of Cinematic Arts—in 2014.  The department continues to be a national leader in Film Studies and Film Production, which mutually inform the work of students in our Cinema BA. Cinematic Arts will celebrate its 10th anniversary as a stand-alone department in fall 2024. During those 10 years, demand for Cinema among UIowa undergraduates has exploded, reaching over 500 majors and minors (and still rising) today.

  • Screenwriting at the Heart of the Writing University


    In 2019, the university regents approved a new BA program in Screenwriting Arts, housed in Cinematic Arts alongside the BA in Cinema. Rapidly approaching its 5th anniversary, Screenwriting is one of the fastest-growing programs at the university and a rising powerhouse within Iowa City's already legendary creative writing scene. Screenwriting students at UIowa have the unique advantage of residing between top-notch university programs in both creative writing and cinema, and there is never a shortage of major literary events to attend.

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    Into the Future

    With the integration of Screenwriting, the Department of Cinematic Arts now offers a comprehensive film education to rival that of larger, privately funded, film schools. Our graduate and undergraduate students enjoy a range of degree pathways (in production, screenwriting, history and theory) that is still rare in public universities and practically unique among our Big-10 peer institutions. We also collaborate closely other units in arts, writing and communications and share a long list of high-profile alumni in the film & TV industries. Students in Cinematic Arts have won academy awards, shown in festivals such as Cannes, and gone on to do pioneering work in both film studies and film production. We seek to continue empowering our current students to become the illustrious alumni of the future. 

    We're also keenly aware that we remain Iowa's only public university film department, and we strive to serve the students of this state and beyond with a world-class film education. For over a century, Iowa has led the way for film & television in American higher education, and student demand for advanced university training in these areas has never been higher than today.