Brian R. Jacobson
Professor of Visual Culture
Brian Jacobson is a historian of modern visual culture and media. His research focuses on world making and the creation of artificial environments, from media architecture and visual representation to energy infrastructure, climate control, and terraforming.
Jacobson has written extensively about the history of studio architecture. His first book, Studios Before the System: Architecture, Technology, and the Emergence of Cinematic Space (Columbia University Press, 2015), situates the world's first film studios in the architectural and technological developments of urban industrial modernity and argues that cinema should be understood both as a system of environmental regulation and as a critical component of what historians of technology have termed the "human-built world." Jacobson is the editor of the award-winning book In the Studio: Visual Creation and Its Material Environments (University of California Press, 2020), a volume that examines film, television, art, and new media studios in a range of historical and geographic contexts.
His current research combines histories of energy and environment with art and film to examine the role visual culture plays in shaping the practices, politics, and cultural imaginaries of competing energy forms and environmental futures. This work includes a book with the working title "Art in an Age of Oil" that investigates the intertwined midcentury revolutions in energy, media, and visual culture in France and its late-colonial and post-colonial empire.
Jacobson is a recipient of Fulbright, Social Science Research Council (US), Social Science and Humanities Research Council (Canada), Carnegie Trust, and other fellowships. He was a 2016–2017 fellow at the University of Rochester Humanities Center. Before arriving at Caltech, he taught at the University of Toronto (2015–2020), the University of St. Andrews (2012–2015), and Oklahoma State University (2011–2012).
- Studios Before the System: Architecture, Technology, and the Emergence of Cinematic Space (New York: Columbia University Press, Film & Culture Series, 2015)
- Art in an Age of Oil (manuscript in preparation)
Edited Books and Special Journal Issues
- (with Weihong Bao and James Leo Cahill) "Media Climates," Representations (forthcoming)
- In the Studio: Visual Creation and Its Material Environments (Oakland: University of California Press, 2020)
- "French Cinema vs. The Bomb: Atomic Science and a War of Images circa 1950," Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television (forthcoming)
- "Crude Designs for an Oil-Built World," Post45 (5 March 2021)
- "The Shadow of Progress and the Cultural Markers of the Anthropocene," Environmental History 24, no. 1 (January 2019), 158-172.
- "Fire and Failure: Studio Technology, Environmental Control, and the Politics of Progress," Cinema Journal 57.2 (Winter 2018), 22-43.
- "Toward a History of French Ecocinema: Nature in Dimitri Kirsanoff's Modernity," Framework 58, no. 1-2 (Spring/Fall 2017), 52-66.
- "Midcentury Rural Modern: French Agricultural Cinema and the Art of Persuasion," Screen 58(2) (Summer 2017), 141-162.
- "Ex Machina in the Garden," Film Quarterly 69, no. 4 (Summer 2016), 23-34.
- "Infrastructural Affinity: Film Technology and the Built Environment in New York circa 1900," Framework 57, No. 1 (Spring 2016), 7-31.
- "Fantastic Functionality: Studio Architecture and the Visual Rhetoric of Early Hollywood," Film
- History 26, no. 2 (2014), 52-81.
- "Infrastructure and Intermediality: Network Archaeology at Gaumont's Cité Elgé," Amodern: A Journal on Media, Culture, and Poetics 2 (2013)
- "The Black Maria: Film Studio, Film Technology (Cinema and the History of Technology)," History and
- Technology 27.2 (2011), 233-241.
- "The ‘imponderable fluidity' of modernity: Georges Méliès and the architectural origins of cinema,"
- Early Popular Visual Culture 8, no. 2 (May 2010), 189-207.
- "Corporate Authorship: French Industrial Culture and the Culture of French Industry," in A Companion to Documentary Film History, ed. Joshua Malitsky (Wiley-Blackwell, 2021), 147-164.
- "Industrial Film and the Politics of Visibility in the Early Years of North Sea Oil," in Petrocinema: Sponsored Film and the Oil Industry, eds. Marina Dahlquist and Patrick Vonderau (London: Bloomsbury, 2021)
- "Prospecting: Cinema and the Exploration of Extraction," in Cinema of Exploration: Essays on an Adventurous Film Practice, eds. James Leo Cahill and Luca Caminati (London: AFI/Routledge, 2021), 280-294.
- "The Boss's Film: Expert Amateurs and Industrial Culture," in Amateur Movie Making: Aesthetics of the Everyday in New England Film, 1915-1960, eds. Martha J. McNamara and Karan Sheldon (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017), 198-218.
- "Found Memories of Film History: Industry in a Post-Industrial World; Cinema in a Post-Filmic Age," in New Silent Cinema, eds. Paul Flaig and Katherine Groo (New York: AFI/Routledge, 2015), 243-262.
Book and Film Reviews
- Artificial Darkness: An Obscure History of Modern Art and Media. Noam M. Elcott. University of Chicago Press, 2016. Journal of Cinema and Media Studies 59.1 (Fall 2019), 171-178.
- "Hollywood in Flames," Los Angeles Review of Books (June 2019)
- "Workers of the World Cup," Los Angeles Review of Books (July 2018)
- "The Oil Stays in the Picture: The tar sands, and a war of images," Literary Review of Canada vol 26, no. 5 (June 2018)
- "How the Oil Barrel Became an Economic Concept: An Object Lesson," The Atlantic (September 2017)
- "Big Oil's High-Risk Love Affair with Film," Los Angeles Review of Books (April 2017)
- The End of Cinema? A Medium in Crisis in the Digital Age. André Gaudreault and Philippe Marion. Columbia University Press, 2015. Screen 57:4 (Winter 2016), 506-509.
- Cinematic Appeals: The Experience of New Movie Technologies. Ariel Rogers. Columbia University Press, 2013. Technology and Culture 56, no. 2 (April 2015), 558-560.
- The Cinematic Footprint: Lights, Camera, Natural Resources. Nadia Bozak. Rutgers University Press,
- 2011. Technology and Culture 54, no. 2 (April 2013), 424-426.
- Chromatic Cinema: A History of Screen Color. Richard Misek. Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Technology and
- Culture 53, no. 3 (July 2012), 715-717.
- "Film Analysis After Film," Review of Framed Time: Towards a Postfilmic Cinema. Garrett Stewart.
- University of Chicago Press, 2007. Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and
- Culture 32.2 (2010).