Date of Award

May 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Tami Williams

Committee Members

Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece, Jason Puskar, Jesse McLean, Brian Jacobson


Cultural History, Early Film, Lenses, Material Culture, Modernity, Technology


This dissertation tells a cultural history of how lenses became cinema lenses. While lenses are essential for film production, we know very little about the early history of cinema lenses. Rather than just focusing on which lenses were used on certain movies, I historicize how lens production became an industry. Between the 1880s and the 1920s, lens production shifted from an artisanal craft to a commercial industry. By looking at how companies created lenses for film production and projection, I expand early film history to account for the creative work of opticians, engineers, advertisers, and distributors. In more specifically focusing on how lenses became “cinema lenses,” I historicize how ideas central to film studies – perspective, objectivity, subjectivity, and realism – were considered in relationship to lenses. I examine four influential optical companies in Germany (Zeiss), France (E. Krauss), the United States (Bausch & Lomb), and England (Taylor-Hobson). By examining international optics alongside film history, we can see that lenses were not just the product of remarkable inventors or ever-improving designs. Ultimately, I argue that lenses were shaped by a wide range of social, cultural, and industrial debates about the role that technologies of vision played in 19th and 20th century life.