Film History to 1950

Course Number: FS240

Subject: Film Studies


This guide accompanies an in-class workshop about doing research for the Nickelodeon Assignment. 

OBJECTIVE: learn how to search an online archive to find primary sources you can use as evidence. 


Secondary Research

  • Secondary research = engaging with sources of existing research on a topic.

Your Secondary Research Process

  • You'll find a list of secondary sources in FS240 course readings.
  • This is your first step - background research to learn about the subject.
  • Start by reading 1 or 2 book chapters and/or articles that sound good. 
  • Search within sources by using:
    • the table of contents
    • the index
    • the search function (ebooks)
    • ctrl + F (PDFs)


Primary Research

  • Primary research = engaging with sources that get you close to contemporary information on a topic.

Your Primary Research Process

  • Be sure to leave lots of time for this research.
  • You'll need to skim, dive, surface as you explore issues of journals and magazines.
  • Get your bearings a bit by flipping through an issue to see what's inside.
  • Take notes as you go:
    • Keep track of examples as you find them.
    • Collect keywords and try some targeted searching.
    • Keep a document listing links to potential sources so you don't lose them.

Where to Search

Media History Digital Library

A free online resource featuring millions of pages of books and magazines from the histories of film, broadcasting, and recorded sound.

Access film industry trade journals:

Search Tips

  • Search the Early Cinema Collection using advanced search.
  • Add the publisher to search a particular source (e.g. Variety).
  • Use "quotation marks" to keep words together (e.g. "piano organ").
  • Use a +plus sign before a word to make it required (e.g. +vivaphone)

Internet Archive

A non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.

  • Motion Picture Making and Exhibiting (1914)
  • Motion Picture Handbook: A Guide for Managers and Operators of Motion Picture Theatres (1916)
  • Exterior and Interior Ornamentation in Plaster, Composition & Cement for the Motion Picture Theatre (1913)
  • Handbook for Motion Picture and Stereopticon Operators (1908)
  • Opening and Operating a Motion Picture Theatre. How It Is Done Successfully (1912)


You can find running lengths for some films in IMDb.


I want to draw audiences in for the holidays, and am wondering if I should invest in Deagan chimes. What are some things I should consider?

Let's get 3 ideas from 3 different sources into our FS240 shared Google Doc!

Search for ideas in: