Michael Cowan

Department Chair

Michael Cowan is a film and media historian, as well as a scholar of German Studies and a translator, who joined the Department of Cinematic Arts in 2020, following previous appointments at McGill University and the University of St. Andrews. His work has received numerous professional distinctions, including best book awards from Germany (Willy Haas Award), Italy (Limina Award) and the UK (BAFTSS); best article awards from SCMS and BAFTSS; and grants and fellowships, most recently from the Humboldt Foundation. He was founding director of McGill's Moving Image Research Laboratory and has served on the executive committee of Domitor (Society for the Study of Early Cinema), the steering committee of NECS (European Network of Cinema and Media Studies), peer review committees (AHRC), and journal editorial boards (Intermédialités), awards committees for SCMS.

Michael is best known as a scholar of Weimar cinema, but has additional interests in European film history, new media, media history, visual culture, sensory studies and the avant-garde. His courses range from interwar film history to digital documentary. His publications include four monographs, several edited collections and articles in journals such as Art History, Cinema Journal, NECSUS, New German Critique, October and Screen. 


  • The Emergence of Film Societies in Germany and Austria: Tracing the Social Life of Cinema (Amsterdam University Press, 2023), 274pp.
  • The Promise of the Cinema: German Film Theory 1907-1933, co-edited with Anton Kaes and Nicholas Baer (University of California Press, 2016), 685pp. Winner of Limina Award for Best International Film Studies Book and the SCMS Award of Distinction for Best Edited Collection
  • Walter Ruttmann and the Cinema of Multiplicity: Avant-Garde – Advertising – Modernity (Amsterdam University Press / University of Chicago Press, 2014, reprinted 2016), 255pp. Winner of the Willy Haas Prize for best monograph on German film; Honourable Mention for British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies Book Award, 2015; finalist for the Kraszna Krausz Book Award in the category of moving image
  • Hans Richters Rhythmus 21. Schlüsselfilm der Moderne, co-edited with members of BTWH: The Emergence of German Modernity (Königshausen & Neumann, 2013), 218pp.
  • Technology’s Pulse: Essays on Rhythm in German Modernism (School of Advanced Study, University of London, 2012), 242pp., republished Editions Ruthmos, 2018
  • Cult of the Will: Nervousness and German Modernity (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008), 360pp.
  • Leibhaftige Moderne. Körper in Kunst und Massenmedien 1918-1933, co-edited with Kai Sicks (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2005), 381pp.


Selected Articles and Chapters in Film and Media Studies

  • “Hands-On Cinema: Film und Lichtbild and the Promise of Amateur Science,” Global Film Journals, ed. Kelly Ann Conway and Eric Hoyt (forthcoming from University of California Press).
  • "Useful Animation: Iconography, Infrastructure, Impact," co-authored with Malcolm Cook and Scott Curtis, Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal 18, no. 3 (2023), 196-226.
  • “Augmenting Cinema: The Kino-Variété (1913-14),” co-authored with Katharina Loew. Journal of Early Popular Visual Culture 18.4 (2022), 383-399. Special issue on Media Archaeology, ed. Erkki Huhtamo and Doron Gallili.
  • “Public Advertising Screens and the Ambivalence of Interactivity,”  in Grenzenlose Werbung – zwischen Konsum und Audiovision, ed. Karin Moser, Franz Eder and Mario Keller (De Gruyter, 2020)
  • “Interactive Media and Imperial Subjects: Excavating the Cinematic Shooting Gallery,” NECSUS. European Journal of Media Studies (spring 2018), online journal.
  • “Productive City: Walter Ruttmann’s City Films after 1933,” in The City Symphony Phenomenon (1920-1940): Cinema, Avant-garde, and Urban Modernity, ed. Eva Hielscher and Stephen Jacobs and Anthony Kinik (NY: Routledge, 2018), 56-66
  • “Learning to Love the Movies: Puzzles, Participation and Cinephilia in Interwar European Film Magazines,” Film History 27.4 (2016), 1-45
  • “The Realm of the Earth: Broadcast Technologies and World Politics in Interwar European Cinema,” Intermédialités, no. 23 (2015), online.
  • “Taking it to the Street: Screening the Advertising Film in Weimar Cinema,” Screen 54:4 (2013), 463-479. Winner of the BAFTSS best article award, 2015
  • “The Ambivalence of Ornament: Silhouette Advertisements in Print and Film in Early Twentieth-Century Germany,” Art History 36:4 (September 2013), 784-809
  • “Absolute Advertising: Walter Ruttmann and the Weimar Advertising Film,” Cinema Journal 52:4 (2013), 49-73. Winner of the SCMS Kovács Essay Awar
  • “Moving Picture Puzzles: Training Perception in the Weimar ‘Rebus’ Films,” Screen 51 (2010), 197-218. Honourable mention, Kovács Essay Award, SCMS, 2012
  • “Advertising, Rhythm and the Filmic Avant-Garde in Weimar,” October 131 (2010), 23-50
  • “Rethinking the City Symphony in the Digital Era: Harun Farocki and the City Film,” Intermédialités no. 11, special issue on Harun Farocki, ed. Philippe Despoix (2009): 69-86
  • “Between the Street and the Apartment. Disturbing the Spaces of Fortress Europe in Michael Haneke,” Studies in European Cinema 5 (2008), 117-131
Michael Cowan
Contact Information

E210 Adler Journalism Building (AJB)
Iowa City, IA 52242
United States