A history of the

Department of Film & Media Studies

Although the first official Film Studies course was not taught at the College until 1965,

 the seeds had been sown decades earlier.


1939—Renowned Hollywood producer Walter Wanger ’14, invites Professor of English   Bentfield Pressey on a tour of Hollywood. Upon conclusion of the tour, Wagner presents Pressey with a movie camera, projector and other equipment for the College. On his return, Professor Pressey initiates a course in screenplay writing.


1949—The Dartmouth Film Society is started under the guidance of J. Blair Watson,

who is also helping students to make films with the equipment available at the time. These students, many of whom will go on to become Hollywood figures in all fields of the industry, will eventually run the Film Society, and provide impetus for the growth of Film Studies.


1964—On the advice of Professor John Finch, Chairman of the English Department,

a group of students stand outside Thayer Hall and obtains 200 signatures on a petition demanding a Film Studies Course.


1964—Henry B Williams, Chairman of the English Department’s Drama Program, requests a course in the History and Appreciation of Film. His request is turned down by the Humanities Division, as the study of film is backed by no vast body of literature. In his own words “My reply to that, was that there was indeed a literature of the Motion picture, not in books, but in cans containing reels of film”.


1964—College Vice-President Orton Hicks, Sr.`21, himself a former movie executive, calls his friend Arthur Mayer in New York, and asks him to teach a course which has not yet been approved. Mayer (b.1886) has been in the motion picture industry all his life, has written two books on the history of film, but has no  academic credentials.


1964—Mayer begins teaching the History and Appreciation of Film, as a seminar rather than an official College course.


1965—"The History and Appreciation of Film" is approved by the Faculty, and becomes the first Film Studies course officially recognized by the College


1966—The Drama Program becomes a full department independent of English, and takes Film Studies with it.


1971—President John Kemeny provides funds for the Film Studies Program, which begins a three-year probationary period under the guidance of Mayer, and Mr. Mayer and Maurice Rapf. Film Studies however is still a part of the Drama major.



1978-1986- Various grants make it possible for established professionals to teach for a term at a time. Among the many such visitors are King Vidor(director), John Michael Hayes(screenwriter), Frank Gilroy (director-writer), Walter Bernstein (screenwriter), and Les Blank (documentarian.


1988—The College grants the Film Studies Program an independent major.





Recycled Stars