Since July of 2010, I have been Editor-in-Chief of the Cinema and Media Studies portion of Oxford Bibliographies. Cinema and media studies may be the fastest evolving discipline in the Humanities, constantly redefining itself as technologies and audiences change. Scholars are also trying to keep up with new theoretical paradigms, even those with no connection to the latest technology. In the last few years, a large group of academics have been writing about YouTube, Instagram, Twitter feeds, and everything else on which people fix their gazes when they could be going to the movies or just sitting in front of a television set. But trauma theory, in which scholars engage with the aftermath of horrific events that have little to do with technological innovation, has also become a growth area in cinema and media studies. Would someone who left cinema and media ten years ago recognize what is happening in the discipline today?
Oxford Bibliographies is the Anti-Google, providing paths around the Internet Infodump with carefully annotated bibliographies of essential books, articles, book chapters, Web sites, and quality journalism. When you Google a subject, you see multiple sites where someone — with or without in-depth knowledge — has delivered a set of opinions. And you never know exactly what axes the author has to grind. By contrast, each article in OB is written by an established expert in the field who lists only the most important items and then provides annotations explaining why each resource is useful. The article is then vetted by another expert in the field and by members of OB’s Cinema and Media Studies editorial board. In addition, the contributors to the project may update their articles as often as four times a year.
My editorial board and I were originally asked to commission 300 bibliographic essays. But the project has become so successful that we no longer have a limit on the number of articles we can publish. In addition to the more than 200 articles now published online, there are at least 150 additional articles in some stage of development.
Cinema and Media Studies is one of more than eighty “modules” being assembled by OB. Bibliographies for Sociology, Victorian Literature, Public Health, Buddhism, Communication, Classics, Music, and several other disciplines are already online. More will be appearing in the next year or two. When I came in as Editor-in-Chief of Cinema and Media Studies, one of my first assignments was to create a taxonomy of 300 items that would present the discipline in a coherent order. Breaking down all of cinema and media studies into 300 parts was not nearly as impossible as I had feared, if only because I was able to circulate my first halting efforts among a start-up editorial board of twelve trusted colleagues. I also reached out to scholars in some of the more arcane areas — arcane at least for me — to learn what was still missing.
My taxonomy now has more than 450 entries. It is constantly evolving, and some items inevitably overlap with others. So, there is an entry for “Latin American Cinema,” but there are also entries for “Argentine Cinema,” “Mexican Cinema,” and “Brazilian Cinema.” There is an entry on “Women and Film” but also on female directors such as Dorothy Arzner, who flourished in the 1930s, and Jane Campion, who directed the Oscar-winning The Piano in 1993 and is still active today. In addition, the article on “Feminist Theory” also address Arzner and Campion, but primarily in terms of how scholars using feminist methodologies have regarded them.
Here is what a small segment of the taxonomy now looks like:
Chien andalou, un
Cinema and the visual arts
Cinematography and cinematographers
City in Film
Cognitive film theory
Colonial education films
Colonialism and postcolonial theory
Comics, Film, and Media
Coppola, Francis Ford
Copyright and piracy
As you can see, there are essays on stars, directors, film theorists, individual films, national cinemas, genres, technical features, academic debates, and issues within the industry. Anything that can generate at least 100 useful citations. What is in fact useful will be decided first by the author of the bibliography with advice from at least one outside expert, then from the editorial board, and ultimately from anyone who wishes to press the Contact Us button on the website.
In the early stages of asking people to write on various topics, I was surprised that some subjects have not attracted the substantial amounts of scholarship I had anticipated while others have become growth industries. As I have suggested, the literature is rapidly growing for “alternative media” like computer games, Facebook, and blogs. YouTube has only been up and running since 2005, but the Australian scholar Jean Burgess had no trouble putting together a substantial list of books, articles, and journalistic pieces back in 2011.
An even larger literature has developed around “exploitation cinema,” all those disreputable movies that our parents told us to stay away from. Ernest Mathijs of the University of British Columbia has assembled a list of works that address the various exploitation genres, including the slasher film, “mondo” and snuff films, Nazisploitation, Blaxploitation, and porn chic, to name just a few. He has also divided the many attempts to theorize these films into the categories of freakery, paracinema, transgression, and fan studies. Who knew?
In fact, my editorial board and I have been empowered to scrap the 100-citation goal and start commissioning “boutique” articles that may have substantially fewer items. Cynthia Lucia of Rider University, for example, has written on the intriguing career of Natalie Wood, who was prominent in the transition from the “Old Hollywood” to the “New Hollywood” in the 1970s. Not much has been written about her, but what is there can be extremely useful to cinema scholars intrigued by those transitional years.
Let me conclude by saying that I have learned even more about my discipline than I had expected when I signed on as an OB editor. If I have learned to embrace the nerdiness of searching out errors, big and small, in the material I oversee, I have also learned to celebrate the breath-taking variety of scholarship taking place in every corner of the world as the discipline continues to expand and redefine itself.