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Emotion and Knowledge in Health Education Films, 1910-1990

By the end of the 19th century, medical sciences were already using the young medium of film as a research instrument. New insights into and about the body seemed to be made possible with this medium. At the same time, the potential of the “emotion machine” of film was used for the transfer of knowledge to a broader audience. Especially in Europe and the US a large amount of medical films were produced to inform the public about such infectious diseases as tuberculosis, smallpox, and syphilis. Some of these were circulated transnationally; they oscillated between global demands and national/local viewing habits. Although moving pictures appeared to be highly suited to the mediation of knowledge about the body, instruments designed to control the emotions evoked by the medium were developed at the same time – for example, the institutionalization of censorship and the first attempts to do scientific research on audience reactions. This project does three things: First, it analyzes the relationship of emotions and knowledge in the discourse on the potential of these films in Germany, France, and the US. Second, it will explore practices of “emotionalizing knowledge” in the films: which techniques of narration, aesthetics in the imagery are used to mediate knowledge of the body and to appeal to the audience emotionally? Which national/local specificities become obvious in these films; which were circulated transnationally? And finally, the project analyzes practices of controlling audience’s emotions and the research related to this effort, including the conception of the measurability of emotions.

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