Jessica Shaw, Nick Pulliam, and Hannah Sheehan

The Historical Development of Film 

Film has an interesting history. In the final years of the 19th century we developed the technology to record the world around us for the first time. Thomas Edison invented the kinetoscope, which was essential to the development of film. Edison made the mistake of not immediately patenting the technology and two Frenchmen named Louis Lumiere and Auguste Lumiere created a more efficient, albeit primitive by today’s standards, portable camera. This would be essential to the beginning of film as we know it, but the two men don’t contribute much beyond what they’ve already done. Instead of creating new things for people to see, they just recorded the world around them. At the time this was still an amazing accomplishment, but others realized that the appeal would eventually wear off. Edison and others did see the potential this technology held and so they began the early years of film.

Sound Is something we take for granted in film now, but in the early years, it wasn’t a practical idea. Because of this the general public could only enjoy silent films. Dialogue was brief and usually presented on a slide, which did make it easier to translate to different languages. It was still limiting however, so early pioneers of the film industry had to rely on tricks and illusions to make their films entertaining and worthwhile to the public. And that’s all early films were at the beginning. Short and simple entertainment.

The medium did begin to change for the better and by 1910 it realized its potential for serious storytelling thanks to the first feature length film titled Birth of a Nation. The film itself is quite controversial but it’s impact is still important nonetheless.

Movies were still fairly limited in what they could present on screen. It was possible to add color to film, but the process was incredibly tedious and so most people didn’t see the value in doing it. In the 1920’s Technicolor changed that since it developed the technology needed to make it easier to add color to films. It set the standard for the next thirty years. That being said, colored films still wouldn’t have been quite common. It took until the fifties for colored film to become standard for most movies.

While the early movies didn’t have actually dialogue sound was still important. Most films had music and ambient noise added to the film. In the 20’s sound started to become more common and these films were known as “talkies”. They became easier to produce and by 1929 it was very easy to apply sound to film.

Throughout the 20th century film continued to develop in several meaningful ways. Directors began to create new filming and editing techniques, which in turn made films more meaningful. They also became more important in the lives of every day viewers, with characters and stories becoming iconic parts of pop culture. Film also became a way for governments to spread propaganda. No one is entirely sure how effective propaganda is on a population, but its place in film is significant regardless.

Above all, film is created for entertainment and profit by most studios. While there are plenty of film makers who wish to use film as an artform, that comes second to the need to reach the widest audience possible. Over the last few decades Hollywood’s ability to create realistic looking CGI has grown drastically and that’s led to a rise in massive summer blockbuster spectacles.

Film is still continuing to develop, just like every other medium. In the past few years streaming services have been throwing studios for a spin as it appears that people are preferring to watch films at home as opposed to movie theaters. It’s possible that studios will have to change the way they present their work if they want to survive in an ever-changing world of media. (Pavlik & McIntosh 2015).

Specific Purposes of Film 

In most cases, films are made simply to entertain. They’re created to be as appealing as possible so that they can reach the widest audience and in turn, make as much money as possible. That being said, film isn’t always used just for entertainment, they can also spread certain cultural values and enforce certain beliefs that may or may not be good.

During times of conflict, film can be used as propaganda. During the Cold War with the Soviet Union the U.S. created plenty of propaganda films to oppose their adversaries. They didn’t portray Soviet leaders as scheming villains, instead they showed them as somewhat incompetent and easily manipulated. There’s no saying how effective propaganda is on a population, but it’s still something that’s used nonetheless. (Sorlin 1998).

Film can actually have a very serious impact on what people think in the real world. Well, film alone doesn’t, but when you combine it with other mediums that are saying the same thing, you can have a real effect on the general public. One of the reasons many movies from the past are looked down upon now is because of the values they represented. Plenty of films of the past had racist, sexist, and homophobic stereotypes that may have been commonplace during their time, but have no real place in the modern age (Pavlik & McIntosh 2015).

Films can also represent the feelings of a country with what they show on screen. At the height of the Cold War, when people from the U.S. and Soviet Union feared the possibility of nuclear annihilation, the film Dr. Strangelove was released. It’s a comedy about a U.S. airforce general who sends a bombing squadron to hit the Soviet Union. Both sides have to try to work to stop him and that’s where the challenge arises. The film was extremely controversial at the time with some thinking it helped ease tensions while others thought it would escalate them. The reaction was so divisive but still important as it showed that the medium of film could in fact impact the real world (Deutsch 2016).

Even today plenty of films receive heavy criticism for what may be seen as racist or sexist portrayals of characters. There’s been an increased call for the film industry to include more diversity in their films to better represent the audiences watching them.

Historical Development of Photography 

Photography was born in the 18th Century but hadn’t bloomed until the 19th Century when the camera obscura box was created. Thomas Wedgewood was the first person to have a documented unsuccessful attempt at taking a photograph. Then, Nicéphore Niépce started experimenting with more light techniques in the 1820’s. The camera obscura box was an invention made to expose light-sensitive materials onto the projected image. In the beginning, to produce a more light-exposed image it could take at least 8 hours to several days to even get the light into the photo. By 1822, Nicéphore Niépce successfully created the first light sensitive image but it was later destroyed when he tried to make copies of it. The word “photography” wasn’t even coined until 1839 by Sir John Herschel. The meaning behind the word photography comes from the Greek word “phōs” meaning light and “graphê” meaning drawing; and the two words together meaning “drawing with light”. During 1851, the “collodion process” was introduced, which we would call now just exposing a photo in a dark room.  First ever digital camera was made by an engineer at Eastman Kodak named Steve Sasson, he went on to be known as the man who invented the first ever digital camera. The camera company went on to become one of the biggest in the industry and is still well-known.

Throughout history, photography’s specific functions have gone from a simple form of documentation to an art form. It has become not only a way to express yourself but a way to portray an emotion to the audience. It can be used as an art form, to create something beautiful; a portrait shot or a picture of a landscape. But, it’s also a way to show an audience a certain event. On September 2nd, 2015 a photo of a drowned Syrian boy had risen to the media. It was a picture of true devastation, it was a horrific image that had a much deeper social meaning. The photo had caused an uproar due to the refugee crisis, people would share the photo as evidence to prove that US needs to do more for the Syrian refugees. Also, the photos of 9/11 are on repeat on the news annually, to remind everyone of how truly heartbreaking that day really was and still is to the American people.

It’s original purpose and function was to keep documentation of wars, medical purposes, legal documentation, and family portraits. And, although that purpose still resides, throughout history it has been added to. It is now been made for art, surveillance, public safety, career documents, news outlets, and social media.

Historical Development of Television 

Although television, and tv programs seem like a normal part of everyday lives, it wasn’t that long ago the Idea of moving pictures in your home was crazy. It took long enough to just get 1 picture never mind hundreds a minute. But November 11th, 1941 (Foust,13) that all changed! The first live television program was broadcasted throughout New York City, and the age of using the television as a form of family entertainment began.

In 1939 David Sarnoff developed a new type of television screen called the 441-line. The lines on the screen increased the clarity of the picture making it more pleasurable for the audience to watch.(Pavlik 126) As time went on the television became more popular, and it became a part of many people’s daily routines, often coming home and watching it after work. This section of time was and still is known as prime time. Because of the popularity of television, it started to shift from solely focusing on entertainment to also being a great way to spread information, about a product or business, or even make people aware of current events! Currently television is one of the most used, and successful lines of communication. From business, to government, to emergency situations. We have come to depend on the television for so much, we have even developed programs to teach our children basic skills. It is estimated that children spend about 6.5 hrs. every day in front of a screen, (Pavlik 123) and many adults spend even more!

From the first TV program to now, the use and purpose of TV has changed dramatically. Television was once a single sided form of communication provided to the consumer. In recent years television has become more interactive. It started with telethons, where viewers could call to donate money for a cause, to now many talk shows allow viewers to call, or even tweet questions and comments. TV also has switched from being part of everyone’s down time, to even encouraging health and fitness. TV channels such as QVC, and The Shopping Network have made it possible for viewers to purchase Items they see on TV, and hear live reviews from those who have bought the item without ever leaving their recliner!

Television has many purposes, many of whom we have learned to rely on. The obvious one is entertainment, and keeping your little brother busy while mom makes dinner. It has also become one of our main sources of information. As a society we have come to depend on television programs like CNN, and Fox to keep us updated on the most recent government decisions or alert us of a crisis. It is also used to spread culture, and help people understand their roles. It is also used to start trends. An example of this is when the show Friends was first popular in the 1990’s every girl wanted the “Rachel Green” haircut.

A complete timeline on television history click here

Timeline of Visual Media


1800 – Thomas Wedgewood made the first ever attempt at taking a picture using light-sensitive substances.

1822 – First real photograph was taken by Nicéphore Niépce but later destroyed when copying the picture was attempted.

1839 – Sir John Herschel coined the term “photography”.

1851 – The “collodion process” was introduced, now known as a dark room.

1826 – Nicéphore Niépce creates the earliest surviving nature shot.

1891 – Thomas Edison invents the kinetoscope; this tool would be instrumental in the development of cameras as we know them

1895 – Louis and Auguste Lumière are inspired by Edison’s invention and create the Cinematograph, a portable camera which they use to record scenes of nature. They show their work to paying audiences in France and find major success. Others begin to see the potential in using this invention to create stories.

1975 – First ever digital camera was made by an engineer at Eastman Kodak named Steve Sasson.

1922 – Technicolor becomes the go to process for adding color to films, a task that had proven to be very time consuming in the past.

1927- Filo Farnsworth transmits first electronic image through television

1929 – It becomes much more feasible to add sound to film, bringing an end to the age of silent films and starting a new age of “Talkies”, which are films with sound

1937 – Snow White and the Seven Dwarves is released. While it wasn’t the first feature length animated film, it was still seen as revolutionary in the film industry and kickstarted a golden era for animated films

1939- David Sarnoff creates 441-line Television

1941- First live television program was broadcast throughout NY City

1953- TV dinners become a standard in households.

2010- Children on average spend 6.5 hrs. A day in front of a screen

2015 – Photo of drowned Syrian refugee boy comes to the US news stations.

Works Cited 

Brower, Sue. “Channeling Rear Window.” Journal of Popular Film & Television, vol. 44, no. 2, Apr-Jun2016, pp. 89-98.

Brown, Milton W. 2014. “The History of Photography As Art History.” Art Journal 31 (1): 31–36.

Deutsch, J. I. (2016). “‘No Communist Could Dream of a More Effective Anti-American Film’: Dr. Strangelove and its Red Reviewers.” Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 36(1), 40-52.

Foust, Jim. “That’s the Way It Is: A History of Television News in America.” American Journalism, vol. 34, no. 1, Winter2017, pp. 105-106.

Freeman, M. (2015). “Up, Up and Across: Superman, the Second World War and the Historical Development of Transmedia Storytelling.” Historical Journal Of Film, Radio & Television, 35(2), 215-239.

Pavlik J. & McIntosh S. (2015) Converging Media Fourth Edition. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

Roth, M.S. (2010). “Why Photogoraphy Matters to the Theory of History.” History & Theory, 49 (1),90-1-3.

Staton, D. (2014). “Review of Photography; History and Theory.” Visual Communication Quarterly, 21(3), 178-179.

Sorlin, P. (1998). “The Cinema. American weapon for the Cold War.” Film History, 10, 375-381.

Tartlton apps. “Television History- A Timeline.” Carlton Law: Utexas.


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Introduction to Media Studies Copyright © by Jessica Shaw, Nick Pulliam, and Hannah Sheehan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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