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Circuits of Cinema: Itinerant Showmanship in North America, 1895-1907

PIs: Paul Moore and Sebastien Caquard

A hundred traveling ‘showmen’ built a mass market for movies. For cinema’s first decade from 1896, these showmen, itinerant entrepreneurs who owned projectors and films, followed the same routes as circus and theatre troupes, religious and educational lecturers, and electioneering politicians. Yet, the novelty of cinema allowed a nearly identical projection, coast to coast. Geographic mapping provides data visualizations of the movements of early showmen within continental and international transportation, communication, and civic institutions. The visualizations are built on top of gathering information about nearly 10,000 “shows” as noted and advertised in newspapers, now digitally searchable. Maps and abstract representations reveal structures of cinema as inter-regional. The results show how movies found their mass audience first within local and regional routines, embedded in transnational cultural networks. In this research, I combine the fields of Media Archaeology and Digital Humanities, connecting film showmanship to communication history by mapping the structures of early cinema’s continental circulation.

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