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Film and Science (FILM 3910) - Ben Schultz-Figueroa: Getting Started

Research Pathways

Hello! Before you begin researching, remember that this is a difficult topic to study. There may be no writing about the particular film you are interested in; the writing that does exist may be in obscure scientific journals; the writing may not give you the information you are looking for or even mention the use of film; the writing may use technical jargon that is hard to understand; the writing may not be accessible because it is secret or in an archive. Due to these difficulties, you should consider three possible outcomes to your research:

  1. You might get lucky. Maybe there actually is a lot written about the film you’re interested in. In which case: great! 

  2. You might find nothing. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t write about your chosen film. So, for instance, if you’re interested in the film Early Human Fetal Activity (1952) and you search high and low—in Pubmed, and PsycARTICLES, and JSTOR, etc.—and you can’t find anything, you might then move a step broader in your search. You could look up "embryology" and "film" and see what you find. If you’re interested in early applications of film, which can be very useful since early adopters often explain why they’re using film, you might search embryology and “cinematograph”. These will turn up articles that will give you a sense of how this scientific field uses film, which you then can use to contextualize your particular film. So, if you can’t find anything written about your exact film, you can take one step out and do a broader search. That’s okay.

  3. Given how difficult all of this is, you might want to choose a different approach altogether. If you don’t have a film in mind already, you can start with a scientific field first and then whittle your way down to a particular film, set of films, or conversation about films. So for instance, you could start with a prominent journal in your field like The British Medical Journal and search for terms like "film," "cinema," "cinematograph," and "video." (Remember that "film" will often have other meanings in chemistry, biology, medicine, and a number of other fields, so you may need to try one of the other terms.) From there you will start to see patterns around particular films or debates around certain film practices that you can then choose as a topic. This approach will ensure that you have enough sources.

Scientific Encyclopedias (for unpacking the scientific concepts)

Film Studies Libguide

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Lynn Deeken

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Lynn Deeken
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