SIG Institutional History


After its formation at the 2010 Los Angeles meeting of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, the Urban Studies Scholarly Interest Group began to articulate the possible horizons of meaning for the relationships among film, media, and the city by devising its first official workshop. This workshop, “Towards an Urban Approach to Cinema and Media Studies,” was held the next year in New Orleans. This workshop various asked how case studies of stars and film festivals could be used to illuminate issues of site specificity, how urban sociology might address medium specificity, how architecture represented on screen could impact audience address, and how architectural training and tactics might be used for film or media-based inquiries. Following this inaugural workshop, the SIG, which recently changed its name to Urbanism, Architecture, and Geography to better reflect the members’ range of interests, has submitted a proposal for an “official” workshop – one devised by its officers in collaboration with the wider membership and designed to address issues of interest to the membership as a whole – each year, from 2012 to the present. The details of these workshops are listed below, with all affiliations current at the time of the workshop:

Towards an Urban Approach to Cinema and Media Studies (New Orleans 2011)
Co-Chairs: Sabine Haenni (Cornell University) & Brendan Kredell (Northwestern University)
Participants: Pamela Wojcik (University of Notre Dame), Mark Shiel (King’s College London), Erica Stein (University of Iowa), John David Rhodes (University of Sussex), Katherine Lawrie Van de Ven (UCLA)

Teaching the City: Pedagogic Issues in Urban Cinema and Media Studies (Boston 2012)
Co-Chairs: Brendan Kredell (University of Calgary) & Paula Massood (Brooklyn College, CUNY)
Participants: Amy Corbin (Muhlenberg College), Sabine Haenni (Cornell University), Shannon Mattern (The New School), Mary N. Woods (Cornell University)

From Chicago to L.A.: Research Paradigms for Cinematic Cities (Chicago 2013)
Co-Chairs: Mark Shiel (King’s College London) & Brendan Kredell (University of Calgary)
Participants: Richard Lloyd (Vanderbilt University), Judy Hoffman (University of Chicago), Jon Lewis (Oregon State University), Stanley Corkin (University of Cincinnati), Josh Glick (Yale University)

Film, Media, and the Right to the City (Seattle 2014)
Chair: Erica Stein (University of Arizona)
Participants: Mark Shiel (King’s College London), Lawrence Webb (University of Gothenberg), Laura Podalsky (Ohio State University), Mona Damluji (UC Berkeley), Jeffrey Hou (University of Washington)

Revisiting Methods in Architecture and Cinema (Proposed, but not accepted, for Montreal 2015)

Since 2013, the SIG has reserved one slot on the workshop for a colleague whose home is either in another subfield within cinema and media studies, or in another discipline altogether. In 2012, the workshop featured architect Mary N. Woods (Cornell University); in 2013, the sociologist Richard Lloyd (Vanderbilt University); in 2014 landscape architect Jeffrey Hou (University of Washington-Seattle); and 2015’s planned workshop would have included remarks by Francois Penz (University of Cambridge), whose work on the intersections of the moving image and architecture has been crucial to the development of our field. By including our cross-disciplinary counterparts, our workshops have attempted to increase in methodological scope even as we narrow and deepen the workshop topics themselves.

SIG members have also devised, developed, and proposed their own workshops, which have been sponsored in parallel with their SIG-wide counterparts:

Urban Informatics, Geographic Data, and the Media of Mapping (New Orleans 2011)
Chair: Shannon Mattern (The New School)
Participants: Germaine Halegoua (University of Wisconsin, Madison), Bredan Kredell (Northwestern University), Daniel Makagon (DePaul University), Jesse Shapins (Harvard University), Nicole Starosielski (UC Santa Barbara)

Bridging Disciplines in Urban and Media Studies (Boston 2012)
Chair: Joshua Gleich (University of Texas, Austin)
Participants: Mark Shiel (King’s College London), Merrill Schleier (University of the Pacific), Erica Stein (University of Arizona)

Non-Theatrical Representations of Urban Spaces (Chicago 2013, co-sponsored with the Nontheatrical Scholarly Interest Group)
Chair: Martin Johnson (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill)
Participants: Cara Caddoo (Graduate Center, CUNY), Allyson Field (UCLA), Doug Cunningham (Westminster College), Marsha Gordon Orgeron (North Carolina State University), Joshua Gleich (University of Texas Austin)

From Libraries to Labs: Spaces of Media Access, Making, and Learning (Seattle 2014)
Chair: Shannon Mattern (The New School)
Participants: Anne Balsamo (The New School), Paulina Mickiewicz (McGill University), Jentery Sayers (University of Victoria), Patrik Svensson (Umea University)

These workshops have often been dedicated to postulating and testing new methods for less common media objects, or to asking certain urban-oriented objects might be understood as media. In doing so, they have provided a crucial space for the expansion of urban and media study.

We thank former SIG Co-Chair Mark Shiel (King’s College London) for compiling and sharing all of the above information for each official and individual workshop delivered on topics of urbanism, architecture, and geography from 2010 to 2015.

New Directions and Methods in Urban Studies and Film

SIG-sponsored workshops tend to cycle across the lifespan of the organization, with early entries dedicated to core questions of pedagogy and method, establishing a common language, and later one expanding the potential area of inquiry for the group and/or focusing critical attention on otherwise less-theorized areas. The Urban Studies SIG has recently grown to over 200 members, who are engaged in a variety of activities – including this journal – and seek to develop a diversity of interests. In recognition of the multifaceted nature of the group and its research, the membership voted in Spring 2015 to change the name of the group to Urbanism, Architecture, and Geography. In response to this name change and to mark the beginning of the SIG’s new period of growth and research, this year’s official, accepted workshop was “New Directions and Methods in Urban Studies and Film.” The text of the full initial proposal is below. We will host a discussion on this topic in Atlanta in 2016 as a part of the official conference program, and we hope to continue the conversation begun there informally during the business meeting or social event.

The Urban Studies Scholarly Interest Group studies urbanism, architecture, and geography as they intersect with film and media. Responding to a call from our membership at our 2015 business meeting, this workshop helps the SIG sponsor a conversation on new methods in these areas. We imagine the workshop as the first in a series of two, to be held at the 2016 and 2017 meetings of the Conference. This year, we approach the topic through the lens of film studies, whose medium-specific investigations of the city continue to provide crucial frameworks for the field as a whole. Next year’s workshop will emphasize new media, data modeling, surveillance, and televisual technologies. Collectively, these workshops survey the recent state of Urban Studies, engage emerging methods and interests, and help shape future scholarly inquires. This workshop focuses on contemporary objects and theories, asking how method become fluid when the definitions of cinema and city themselves are in flux. Our participants variously present new modes of thinking cinematic geography and architecture and new definitions of the cinematic city. Lawrence Webb answers Charlotte Brunsdon’s call for reasserting film studies methods in urban studies by considering the industrial and institutional geographies of film as they constitute audiences. Jennifer Bean adds a crucial historical dimension, asking how “Hollywood” emerges as an imagined and physical geography during the 1910s while probing similarities and differences in the spatial terms utilized to imagine the U.S. film industry in the early twenty-first versus the early twentieth century. Just as Webb and Bean limn a re-engagement with geography, Mark Shiel traces one with architecture, outlining the challenges of teaching architecture to film/media studies students and noting documentaries about architects as a new pedagogic method and new site for study. The above presentations model an expanded cinema that encompasses architecture and geography, while the below presentations expand our approach to and notion of the cinematic city. First, Sabine Haenni proposes a site-specific method for exploring understudied sites that considers urban areas and their relation to cinema beyond major metropolitan or national centers. Finally, Stan Corkin uses one such understudied city, Boston, to outline a model that places film within a media network including sports, popular music, and news as they collectively produce a sense of the city.

Chair: Erica Stein (Marymount Manhattan College)
Participants: Lawrence Webb (University of Sussex), Jennifer M. Bean (University of Washington-Seattle), Mark Shiel (King’s College London), Stanley Corkin (University of Cincinnati), Sabine Haenni (Cornell University).

Sponsored Events

Each scholarly interest group within the Society of Cinema and Media Studies receives a budget of $500 each year. SIGS may choose to sponsor affiliate off-site events (such as screenings or exhibits), to submit a proposal for a larger, conference-wide event that may be chosen as one of two officially sponsored on- or off- site events, and/or to stage a social event for their membership. Over the past five years, the Urban Studies SIG has utilized its budget to fund all of the three events described above.

New Orleans 2011: an off-site sit down dinner at a restaurant, with invitations extended to all currently registered members. At this point membership had grown from the initial 25 signatories required to the low 50s. Roughly 20 members attended this event.

Boston 2012: Events this year consisted of two co-sponsored screenings, both of which were listed in the program as affiliated events. The first, Forest of Bliss (1986) was co-sponsored with the Documentary Studies SIG. The second, Land of Opportunity (2011) was co-sponsored with both Documentary Studies and the Latino Caucus.

Chicago 2013: This year our proposal for an official conference event, co-sponsored with Documentary Studies, was accepted. “Public Media 2.0: A Conversation on the Future of Urban Documentary and Social Change” was held in the Contemporary Museum of Art, drew an audience of several hundred including the public, and featured a reception in the Museum’s lobby. We also co-sponsored an affiliated off-site screening of “Chicago Symphonies” with the Nontheatrical Film SIG.

Seattle 2014: In addition to another affiliated screening, “Pacific Wonders: Nontheatrical Films from the Northwest” (co-sponsored with Nontheatrical, Silent Cinema Cultures, and Media and the Environment), we also organized an off-site social event. This event, held at the Six-Arms Tavern, featured an open bar as well as light snacks, and was attended by roughly 30 members in total.

Montreal 2015: We co-sponsored our fourth consecutive off-site affiliated screening, “Habitat: Experimental Visions of Montreal” (Experimental Film and Media, CinemArts, Documentary studies, Nontheatrical). This event, held at the Sala Rossa bar, was a standing-room only success, boasting an audience of more than 100. We also held our first on-site official social event at the
Les Voyageurs Bar, which featured an open bar and was visited by 50 members throughout the evening.

Over the past five years, we have identified repeated co-sponsor partners in the Documentary and Nontheatrical scholarly interest groups, and have been especially committed to helping to produce site-specific screenings. As our membership has grown, we have concentrated on providing official mixers and social spaces. Our sole officially sponsored event to date was successful in terms of attendance and logistics. This gives us a great amount of flexibility for our funds this year. SCMS accepts proposals for official events until Sept. 18 at 5pm (CST), and the SIG officers generally try to identify likely affiliated events or social events by the end of the calendar year. If you have any proposals for events of any kind in Atlanta 2016, please post them in the comments to this post or on the official SIG Facebook page.