Project leader

Frank KesslerProf. Frank Kessler
Media and Culture Studies
Utrecht University

In this project, which is part of the larger research programme on Cultural Dynamics initiated and funded by Dutch Research Organisation NWO, we will explore aspects of early 20th century visual culture as it was shaped by popular media, and in particular film. Our research wants to contribute to the international efforts to understand the ways in which early cinematography entered the mediasphere of the turn of the century, creating new modes of representations, but also building upon, and merging with, other forms of visual culture.


Sarah DellmannSarah Dellmann, PhD candidate
Project: The Nation and Its Other: The Emergence of Modern Popular Imagery and Representations: Images of ‘Dutchness’

In my PhD project, I investigate the origins and histories of images of Dutchness as displayed in early 20th century visual culture.
To this end, I investigate the role of images in the creation of supposed common knowledge about the Netherlands and the Dutch in the long nineteenth century. I focus on images which claim to inform about the Netherlands and the Dutch in a realist way and which circulated internationally and at high scale: images in popular visual media such as catchpenny prints, perspective prints, prints of people in local costumes, advertising trade cards, illustrated magazines, travel guides, promotional material for travel and tourism, stereoscopic photographs, magic lantern slides, picture postcards and films of early cinema. The images were used in different fields – geography, anthropology, entertainment, tourism or expressing feelings towards the homeland.

The transmedial and comparative approach enables me to trace the occurrence and change of motifs that were used to communicate information about The Netherlands and the Dutch. My assumption is that supposed common knowledge about the Netherlands and the Dutch is the result of performing the images with textual comment. Rather than searching for a ‘real Dutch identity’ that was represented ‘rightly’ or ‘wrongly’, I investigate how images now associated with the Netherlands or the Dutch came into circulation. When did the cliché of tulips, cows, windmills and baggy-trousered fishermen emerge?

Contact Sarah Dellmann
Co-Supervisor: Dr Nanna Verhoeff

Dafna RuppinDafna Ruppin, PhD candidate
Project: Cinema-going in Colonial Indonesia, 1895-1918

This research project on cinema-going in colonial Indonesia focuses on the production, distribution and exhibition of early cinema in the Dutch colonies of the Netherlands Indies from 1895 to the First World War. It examines the unique range of media and popular entertainment forms as well as the socio-political and economic conditions in which moving images were first introduced and later institutionalised, paying particular attention to the processes of embedding, adapting and appropriating the new technology on the local level.

The research addresses some of the following questions: What were the trade routes of early cinema to colonial Indonesia? Who were these itinerant showmen and where were they traveling to and from? What was the commercial logic behind film distribution? What kinds of films were produced locally, by whom and for what purposes? What kinds of venues was cinema being shown in and where were these located? What kind of censorship was applied by the colonial authorities? Who did exhibitors view as their potential audience/s: Dutch/Europeans, native Indonesians, Chinese, Japanese, others? How did this influence their advertising strategies and film programming choices? Who went to the cinema? Where do categories of race, gender and class come into play in the screening situation? What other forms of popular entertainment were being consumed by local audiences, and how did these influence their cinema-going experiences?

Contact Dafna Ruppin
Co-Supervisor: Dr André van der Velden

Associated Projects

Dafna RuppinRianne Siebenga, PhD candidate

Project: The representation of Indians on magic lanterns, postcards and in non-fiction films, 1870-1915

India in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was represented in a myriad of ways in Britain and the rest of the world. While in India colonial officials wrote large ethnographic studies of every possible aspect of society, in Britain these studies were translated into popular stories, songs, plays and even world exhibitions. With the exception of the exhibitions, all of these were based on text and had no input from Indians themselves. However, visual representations of Indians were spread far and wide during the same period thanks to the popularity of the magic lantern, films and postcards. Since these media crossed class-boundaries quite easily they became an important mediator in the way Indians were represented to the rest of the world. This visual representation was embedded in the larger colonial discourse with regards to its interests and topics. Importantly, the way in which these topics were represented did not necessarily follow this discourse.

The colonial discourse saw Indians in terms of their religion, their castes, and their gender differences. The visual media reflect an interest in similar topics, but within these there is often one aspect that becomes most representative. Consequently, alongside a more general discussion of these topics, my thesis highlights religious ceremonies, especially Muslim Muharram and Hindu Jaganath; the fakir or religious ascetic as representative of caste and male gender; and the nautch girl, or dancing girl, as representative of female gender.
In all these instances there is a definite move away from the textual discourse focusing on danger and fear to a discourse that is much more concerned with the economies of the spectacle. It is this move that interests me and that I am trying to comprehend.

Contact: Rianne Siebenga

Dafna RuppinKlaas de Zwaan, PhD candidate

Project: A cinema in between. Nationalizing foreign propaganda film in Dutch cinema culture (1914-1919)

This PhD project explores the question how (foreign) propaganda films shown in Dutch cinemas during the First World War were interpreted within the ideological framework of nationalism, by analysing how these images were consumed in different Dutch exhibitional contexts and how their propaganda efforts were acknowledged or rejected as being part of a projected ‘Dutchness’. Arguing these films could be equally considered part of a national heritage, my aim is to contribute to a more nuanced understanding of discourses of nationalism within early cinema cultures, as well as issues involving the demarcation and valorisation of national film legacies.

Co-supervisor: Dr. Nanna Verhoeff

Postal address of all participants:

Utrecht University – Department of Media and Culture Studies, Muntstraat 2A, 3512 EV Utrecht, The Netherlands

Advisory board

Prof. Richard Abel, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Prof. André Gaudreault, Université de Montréal
Prof. Tom Gunning, University of Chicago
Prof. Martin Loiperdinger, Universität Trier
Prof. Vanessa Toulmin, University of Sheffield / National Fairground Archive
Prof. Margrit Tröhler, Universität Zürich
Prof. William Uricchio, MIT / Utrecht University