Film Studies Majors Research Skills

What Should Film Studies Majors Know?

By the time of their graduation all majors in Film Studies should understand how film scholars conduct research and how they then communicate the results of their work to colleagues. One way of describing this process is “information literacy” – i.e., the ability to conceptualize what literary information is needed combined with the skills necessary to locate, evaluate, and use this information effectively and ethically.

Writing Intensive Classes

Students who have taken writing intensive classes should already have learned at least the following skills:

  • To identify the kind of information -- biographical, historical, literary -- they need, and to know where to find it. In other words, they should be familiar with various electronic resources, particularly the MLA Bibliography, and some reference books. They should also be aware that web search engines are often inadequate for scholarly research.
  • To be able to evaluate the reliability of a source. Who wrote it? When? Who published it?
  • To know how and when to acknowledge and cite their sources in MLA format.

Film Studies Classes

Information literacy in the context of Film Studies is twofold -- we must understand moving images themselves, and we must navigate and assess scholarship, criticism and other work on moving images.

Loosely put, the aim of Film Studies is to understand the moving image -- something that, in its totality, we are very familiar with, and engage with, use to communicate, and are entertained by almost every day. Knowing how to use film is not the same as knowing how it works, and how it works on us -- as individuals and as a culture. Our aim in Film Studies, which encompasses the study of the moving image in everything from cinema to television to video to the Internet and well beyond -- any moving image that can be seen on a screen, in fact -- is to become clear about how moving images are made and why, and to become very powerful analysts and critics of films (etc.) and their contexts. The initial task is to become aware, aware of the moving image, something we know so well that we typically forget to ask questions of and about it. Coming to this greater awareness involves knowing what's in the frame, literally, and also what surrounds the frame-- what are the formal, cultural, industrial, ideological, political and social contexts that make any moving image -- and the whole idea of the moving image -- meaningful to us. Film Studies helps us come to understand more fully how meaning is made by moving images and their makers, and how meaning is made by us, the spectators. Information literacy in the context of the objects we study involves, at the very least, dealing with the object in its own context (not quite the same as taking the object on its own terms). Criteria for analysis of a Hollywood blockbuster can differ significantly from those used to make meaning of a viral video, an avant-garde installation work, or a home movie.

Any information about the moving image is potentially illuminating. Again, context is crucial. Everything from scholarly articles to fan web sites may be rich. A peer-reviewed article about the reception of Doris Day as a Hollywood Studio star in the 1950s in Cinema Journal may offer one kind of analysis, a review by Pauline Kael in the New Yorker another, a fan site or magazine may also offer useful information, a newsreel of the New York premiere of Pillow Talk tells us something else, and films stills yet other things. Scholarship, criticism and other "paratext" that are more informal mass media are all useful categories of information, but one must see each for its own capacities and parameters. Because moving images are often (though by no means always) mass media, they often generate their own mass media response. It's vital to check facts in multiple sources, especially when the original source is neither peer-reviewed nor otherwise edited (e.g., blogs and fan sites). Moving images, as mass media, are so often met by other mass media that engage with them that it's easy to think "laterally" about all the information available, especially on the Web, smoothing out any differences among them. While we might not agree with the findings in a peer-reviewed article or a book released by a university press, while we might even find the scholarly methods used at fault, we can rely a system in which the information contained there has been assessed by professionals in the field. This is not to say that a blog can't offer vital evidence for a project, but it is to say that information literacy relies on knowing not just content, but also context.

In What Classes Will Film Studies Students Learn These Skills?

In FLS 150 students will be introduced to the standard sources for locating film scholarship, images, and reviews. These will include databases found on the SC Libraries' Film Studies subject page:

Books & Articles Access
Five College Library Catalog Search for books, DVDs, Films & Videos in the Five Colleges. See also Find DVDs & Videos...
International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers Provides thorough coverage of films and filmmakers, including legendary films, actors and actresses, directors, writers and other production artists.
MLA Bibliography 1926+ Extensive index to literature, language, linguistics and folklore in journal articles, books, dissertations, proceedings, and more. From the Modern Language Association of America.
JSTOR - back issues excluding most recent 2-5 years Full text for hundreds of scholarly journals in the arts, humanities, sciences, and social sciences.
ABELL 1920+ Extensive index to books, articles, critical editions of literary works, book reviews, essays and dissertations; 61 journals.
Film & Television Index Covers film & television theory, preservation & restoration, writing, production, cinematography, technical aspects, reviews and more.
Newspapers Access
New York Times Historical 1851-2006 Full text, including images, of the New York Times up to 2006.
LexisNexis Academic Coverage varies by title. Covers a wide range of news, business, legal, and reference information.

As appropriate in other Film Studies classes, students will learn how to integrate research on film with critical and theoretical scholarship other disciplines such as history, religion, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, etc.

Ethical Issues

Using someone else's words, images, ideas, or arguments without acknowledgment is plagiarism. This is a serious violation of the College's Honor Code. Students should learn to distinguish between "received knowledge" and original work, between ideas that have often been repeated and ideas that are new. They must always identify and acknowledge their sources for everything except "received knowledge," such as dates and facts found in many encyclopedias and dictionaries. They must be especially careful to understand their obligations to the copyright holders of previously created films, using these in a legal and ethical manner.

September 9, 2010