SOCS 627
Science and the Moving Image

Jennifer Tucker  

Course Description

We are becoming people of the screen. The fluid and fleeting symbols on a screen pull us away from the classical notions of monumental authors and authority. On the screen, the subjective again trumps the objective. We are now in the middle of a second Gutenberg shift - from book fluency to screen fluency, from literacy to visuality.
-From the New York Times (Nov. 21, 2008). 

The significance of moving images for the production of knowledge has become a source for wide-ranging discussions by cultural critics, scientists, artists, filmmakers, and historians. This one-week course will explore several issues and topics arising from the contemporary emergence of scientific moving images as knowledge in the world today.  What messages about science and scientific knowledge are communicated by film?  How do scientific films define science for different audiences? Why are scientific films important for a broader understanding of science, public history, and knowledge? 

To examine the status of moving images as knowledge, this class will look at five different uber-genres of moving scientific pictures:  (a) films used within scientific practice as experimental laboratory and field data, (b) science documentaries, (c) contemporary independent media/animation, (d) Hollywood and science fiction films that represent science and scientists for mass audiences, and (e) wildlife/nature films.  Each day we will look at and discuss films in each of these categories and explore a variety of different topics in the history of film, science, art and history.  Participants will write short papers in class at the end of each discussion and submit a 10-12 written paper on a topic of their choice at the end of the class session. .  No background in film or science is expected or assumed.

Selected Films and Core Readings

(a) scientific films as data
Films:  "The Sea in the Seed" (Tokyo, 2000); Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, "Bathing Babies in Three Cultures," 1930s, repr. 1952 

Readings:  Lisa Cartwright, Screening the Body: Tracing Medicine's Visual Culture (Minneapolis, 1995).
Hannah Landecker, "Cellular Features: Microcinematography and Film Theory," Critical Inquiry (2005) 

(b) science documentary films
Films: "Cheese Mites" (1903) 

Readings:  Timothy Boon, Films of Fact:  A History of Science in Documentary Films and Television (Wallflower Press, 2008)

(c) contemporary art/science mixers
Films:  Jean Painleve; Rachel Mayeri, "Primate Cinema"/"Soft Science" 

Readings:   Andy Massaki Bellows et al, Science is Fiction:  The Films of Jean Painleve (MIT, 2000)
Lawrence Weschler, Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder:  Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Wonders of Jurassic Technology (1995) 

(d) depicting science and medicine for mass audiences (science fiction films/television)
Readings:  Vivian Sobchack, Screening Space:  The American Science Fiction Film (1997)
Leslie Reagan et al, Medicine's Moving Pictures: Medicine, Health, and Bodies in American Film and Television ( University of Rochester Press, 2007) 

(e) nature/wildlife films
Films:   "The World of Microbes" (1958); "Marine Flowers" (Tokyo, 1975), David Attenborough

Readings: Gregg Mitman, Reel Nature: America's Romance with Wildlife on Film (Cambridge, Mass., 1999).