MITH is pleased to announce that Oliver Gaycken, Vambery Distinguished Professor of Comparative Studies for the 2015-16 academic year, has also been named a MITH Vambery Fellow for the same period. Faculty recipients of the Vambery fellowship are selected on the basis of demonstrated work in European and American comparative literary studies in print, in film, or in other newly discovered technological forms. Gaycken is an Associate Professor in the English Department and a core faculty member of the Comparative Literature Program and the Film Program. He teaches courses on silent-era cinema history, the history of popular science, and the links between scientific and experimental cinema. He has published on the discovery of the ophthalmoscope, the flourishing of the popular science film in France at the turn of the 1910s, the figure of the supercriminal in Louis Feuillade’s serial films, and the surrealist fascination with popular scientific images. His book Devices of Curiosity: Early Cinema and Popular Science, appeared with Oxford University Press in the spring of 2015.
During his fellowship year, Oliver will work on his project, “‘The Living Book of Knowledge’: Visions of the Moving-Image Encyclopedia,” which traces the history of attempts to create an encyclopedic archive of recorded movement, from the late nineteenth century to the present. Related to the attempts to create these repositories is the matter of their consistent failure, since there has never been a robustly functional moving-image equivalent to the print encyclopedia. An overarching question will be whether the digital age promises a realization of the long-held dream of a moving-image encyclopedia, especially since the allure of an all-encompassing collection of knowledge is as powerful as ever thanks to networked computing systems underlying contemporary attempts to create a storehouse of total knowledge, as in Google’s pledge to archive “all human knowledge” via its recently unveiled “Knowledge Vault.”
As a complement to his research, Oliver will consult with MITH staff to develop design documentation about and technical requirements for how aspects of prior encyclopedic film projects could live again via digital tools or platforms. In particular, this research will focus on the Encyclopedia Cinematographica collections of both film and textual components at the Internet Archive and the Human Studies Film Archive, as well as currently extant projects with a similar ambition, in particular the Encyclopedia of Life.
Please join us in welcoming Oliver to our team!