The entrance to the Department of History’s office in Sidney Smith Hall

Brian Jacobson

Assistant Professor

Office Location:  Innis College, 2 Sussex Avenue, Room 232E


Brian Jacobson is a historian of modern visual culture and media. He teaches courses about film history and historiography, cinema and ecology, media and architecture, and modernity and visual culture. His writing about film, art, energy, technology, and the environment has appeared in Cinema Journal, Screen, Film Quarterly, Framework, Film History, Environmental History (forthcoming), History and Technology, Early Popular Visual Culture, and numerous anthologies. He also writes criticism, including essays and reviews in The Atlantic, the Literary Review of Canada, and The Los Angeles Review of Books.

Jacobson is currently working on a book about the visual culture of energy in post-World War II France. Tentatively titled The French Art of Energy, it examines how film and art were mobilized by state and private corporations to sell competing definitions of energy and how new energy forms provided materials and concepts for French filmmakers and artists, including those associated with France’s “new wave” and “neo-avant-garde.” Other projects include an edited book about film studios around the world and articles generally concerned with the visual and material cultures of energy and the environment in a range of national and historical contexts.

Jacobson is the author of Studios Before the System: Architecture, Technology, and the Emergence of Cinematic Space (Columbia University Press, Film & Culture Series, 2015), a book that situates the world’s first film studios in the architectural and technological developments of urban industrial modernity and argues that cinema should be understood both as a system of environmental regulation and as a critical component of what historians of technology have termed the “human-built world.”

Jacobson is the recipient of Fulbright, Social Science Research Council, Carnegie Trust, and other fellowships. He was a 2016-2017 fellow at the University of Rochester Humanities Center.

Articles in Academic Journals

“The Shadow of Progress and the Cultural Markers of the Anthropocene,” Environmental History (forthcoming, 2019)

“Fire and Failure: Studio Technology, Environmental Control, and the Politics of Progress,” Cinema Journal 57.2 (Winter 2018), 22-43.

“Toward a History of French Ecocinema: Nature in Dimitri Kirsanoff’s Modernity,” Framework 58, no. 1-2 (Spring/Fall 2017), 52-66.

“Mid-Century Rural Modern: French Agricultural Cinema and the Art of Persuasion,” Screen 58 (2) (Summer 2017), 141-162.

“Ex Machina in the Garden” Film Quarterly 69, no. 4 (Summer 2016), 23-34.

“Infrastructural Affinity: Film Technology and the Built Environment in New York circa 1900,” Framework 57, No. 1 (Spring 2016), 7-31.

“Fantastic Functionality: Studio Architecture and the Visual Rhetoric of Early Hollywood,” Film History 26, no. 2 (2014), 52-81.

“Infrastructure and Intermediality: Network Archaeology at Gaumont’s Cité Elgé,” Amodern: A Journal on Media, Culture, and Poetics 2 (2013).

“The Black Maria: Film Studio, Film Technology (Cinema and the History of Technology),” History and Technology 27.2 (2011), 233-241.

“The ‘imponderable fluidity’ of modernity: Georges Méliès and the architectural origins of cinema,” Early Popular Visual Culture 8, no. 2 (May 2010), 189-207.

“A Business Without a Future?: The Parisian Vidéo-Club, Past and Present,” (with Joshua Neves). Media Fields Journal: Critical Explorations in Media and Space, Issue 1 (December 2010).

“Introduction: Deaths of Cinema” (w/Christopher Hanson & Veronica Paredes). Spectator 27 (2007): 5-8.

Other Articles

“Workers of the World Cup,” Los Angeles Review of Books (July 2018)

“The Oil Stays in the Picture: The tar sands, and a war of images,” Literary Review of Canada vol. 26, no. 5 (June 2018)

“How the Oil Barrel Became an Economic Concept: An Object Lesson,” The Atlantic (September 2017)

“Ecologies of Depth and Disorder,” Docalogue, May 2017

“Big Oil’s High-Risk Love Affair with Film,” Los Angeles Review of Books (April 2017)

Articles in Books

“The Boss’s Film: Expert Amateurs and Industrial Culture,” in Amateur Movie Making: Aesthetics of the Everyday in New England Film, 1915-1960, eds. Martha J. McNamara and Karan Sheldon (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017), 198-218.

“Found Memories of Film History: Industry in a Post-Industrial World; Cinema in a Post-Filmic Age,” in Paul Flaig and Katherine Groo, eds. New Silent Cinema (New York: AFI/Routledge, 2015), 243-262.

“Film, Technology, and Imperialism at the Pan-American Exposition, 1901,” in Laura Hollengreen, Celia Pearce, Rebecca Rouse, and Bobby Schweizer, eds. Meet Me at the Fair: A World’s Fair Reader (ETC/Carnegie Mellon Press, 2014), 349-362.

Book Reviews

The End of Cinema? A Medium in Crisis in the Digital Age. André Gaudreault and Philippe Marion. Columbia University Press, 2015. Screen 57:4 (Winter 2016), 506-509.

Cinematic Appeals: The Experience of New Movie Technologies. Ariel Rogers. Columbia University Press, 2013. Technology and Culture 56, no. 2 (April 2015), 558-560.

The Cinematic Footprint: Lights, Camera, Natural Resources. Nadia Bozak. Rutgers University Press, 2011. Technology and Culture 54, no. 2 (April 2013), 424-426.

Chromatic Cinema: A History of Screen Color. Richard Misek. Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Technology and Culture 53, no. 3 (July 2012), 715-717.

 “Film Analysis After Film,” Review of Framed Time: Towards a Postfilmic Cinema. Garrett Stewart. University of Chicago Press, 2007. Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture 32.2 (2010).

An Amorous History of the Silver Screen: Shanghai Cinema, 1896-1937. Zhang Zhen. University of Chicago Press, 2005. Film International #26, 5:2 (April 2007), 81-82.

Authored Publications:


  • PhD, University of Southern California
  • SM, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • BS, Appalachian State University


Photo of Brian Jacobson