Screen1900 Research Project: The Social Question in Lantern Shows and Early Cinema around 1900

Funded by German Research Foundation (DFG), from 2009 to 2014.

Team: Brigitte Braun, Karen Eifler, Caroline Henkes, Lydia Jakobs, Martin Loiperdinger, Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Holger Ziegler.

Public performances using the magic or optical lantern became a widespread feature of the social fabric in the 19th century. The “Art of Projection” established the screen as a regular and central feature of cultural life. By 1900 a vast number of lantern slide sets (and later also films) were used in many countries, presenting images of slum life and destitution and contributing to controversial discourses on the Social Question like the ongoing temperance campaigns. Their impact in the public sphere has hardly been explored in either social or media history. The art of projection (in short: the magic lantern) fell into oblivion, because the teleological narrative of media history defined as ‘pre-cinema’ technology what actually had been a mass medium in its right. Because it was a very significant practise in public media discourse at that time, the art of projection is worth becoming a topic of today’s social history writing.

In the years around 1900, performance-related media were a driving force in many public discourses on social and political issues, in Britain and the British Empire, in the US, and also in Germany. Photographs projected onto screens were viewed by much more people than printed on paper in books and journals. The screen culture of the lantern and cinematograph offered various options for different purposes: religious welfare organisations enhanced their sermons with impressive slide projections; temperance activists performed life model slide stories against the ‘demon drink’; food companies and co-operative movements projected images to promote their products; travelling showmen entertained audiences to earn their living; film operators employed by emerging cinema chains entertained audiences to satisfy those companies’ shareholders; surgeons screened films, and art historians projected slides, to teach medical and fine arts students respectively; political parties, the churches, public health campaigns, navy leagues and colonial associations, as well as trade unions, used enlarged images projected from slides and films to make their persuasive efforts more effective for large audiences.

With their many lantern shows, charity and temperance organisations were influential players in negotiating social issues in Victorian Britain, and in Imperial Germany, too, as Karen Eifler shows in her book The Great Gun of the Lantern. The International Conference “Screen Culture and the Social Question” at the German Historical Institute London (GHIL), in December 2011, addressed the topic from various perspectives. Drawing on a rich variety of primary sources, the authors of the conference proceedings investigate the impact of the lantern and cinematograph in public lectures, entertainments, church services and electoral campaigns, in different countries. See The major transfer issue of the project has been the dvd “Screening the Poor 1880-1914” that collects ten lantern sets and twenty early short films that are dealing with various types of poverty. See


Caroline Braun: Von Bettlern, Waisenkindern und Dienstmädchen. Armutsdarstellungen im frühen Film und ihr Anteil an der Etablierung des Kinos in Deutschland. Filmgeschichte International. Schriftenreihe der Cinémathèque Municipale de Luxembourg, Band 25.  Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier: Trier 2018. 266 pp., illustrated.

Karen Eifler: The Great Gun of the Lantern. Lichtbildereinsatz sozialer Organisationen in Großbritannien. Schüren: Marburg 2017, 388 pp., illustrated.

Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Richard Crangle (eds): Screen Culture and the Social Question 1880-1914. KINtop Studies in Early Cinema, vol. 3. Contributions by Stephen Bottomore, Ian Christie, Richard Crangle, Marina Dahlquist, Ine van Dooren, Karen Eifler, Frank Gray, Caroline Henkes, Michelle Lamunière, Martin Loiperdinger, Joss Marsh and David Francis, Annemarie McAllister, Judith Thissen, Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Bonnie Yochelson. John Libbey Publishing: New Barnet (GB) 2014. 276 pp., illustrated.

Lydia Jakobs: George R. Sims’ viktorianische Armutsballaden im Medium der Projektionskunst. Magister thesis. University of Trier 2011.

Karen Eifler: Sensation – intimacy – interaction: lantern performances in religious and socio-political education. In: Early Popular Visual Culture, vol. 17, no. 1 (2019), pp. 45-70.

Karen Eifler: Feeding and Entertaining the Poor: Salvation Army Lantern Exhibitions Combined with Food Distribution in Britain and Germany. In: Richard Crangle; Ludwig Vogl-Bienek (eds): Screen Culture and the Social Question, 1880-1914. KINtop Studies in Early Cinema, vol. 3. John Libbey Publishing: New Barnet (GB) 2014, pp. 113-123.

Caroline Henkes: Frauen in der Großstadt. Thematisierung der Sozialen Frage im Langspielfilm um 1910. In: Thomas Nachreiner, Peter Podrez (eds): FestStellungen. Dokumentation des 25. Film- und Fernsehwissenschaftlichen Kolloquiums. Schüren: Marburg 2014, pp. 255-264.

Caroline Henkes: Early Christmas Films in the Tradition of the Magic Lantern. In: Richard Crangle; Ludwig Vogl-Bienek (eds): Screen culture and the social question, 1880-1914. KINtop Studies in Early Cinema, vol. 3. John Libbey Publishing: New Barnet (GB) 2014, pp. 97-112.

Caroline Henkes: Asta Nielsen and her destitute female characters. In: Martin Loiperdinger, Uli Jung (eds): Importing Asta Nielsen. The International Film Star in the Making 1910-1914. KINtop Studies in Early Cinema, vol. 2. John Libbey Publilshing: New Barnet (GB) 2013, pp. 329-342. Polish version:
Caroline Henkes: Ubogie bohaterki Asty Nielsen. In: Andrzej Dębski, Martin Loiperdinger (eds): KINtop. Antologia wczesnego kina, vol. 1. Oficyna Wydawnicza ATUT: Wrocław 2016, pp. 311-332.

Lydia Jakobs: Conference Report Screen Culture and the Social Question: Poverty on Screen 1880-1914. In: GHIL Bulletin, vol. 34, no. 1 (2012), pp. 191-196.

Martin Loiperdinger: The Social Impact of Screen Culture 1880-1914. In: Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Richard Crangle (eds): Screen Culture and the Social Question 1880-1914. KINtop Studies in Early Cinema, vol. 3. John Libbey Publishing: New Barnet (GB) 2014, pp. 9-19.

Martin Loiperdinger: Mütter, verzaget nicht! Ein Auftragsfilm mit Henny Porten zum Hilfstag für Mutter und Kind 1911. In: Jeanpaul Goergen, Jürgen Kasten (eds): Henny Porten – Gretchen und Germania. Filmblatt-Schriften. Beiträge zur Filmgeschichte, Band 8, CineGraph Babelsberg: Berlin 2012, pp. 19-46.

Martin Loiperdinger, Holger Ziegler: Mütter, verzaget nicht! (1911) [Mothers, Despair Not!]: Henny Porten’s Promotion for Mothers’ Welfare. In: Marta Braun, Charlie Keil, Rob King, Paul Moore, Louis Pelletier (eds): Beyond the Screen: Institutions, Networks and Publics of Early Cinema. John Libbey Publishing: New Barnet (GB) 2012, pp. 51-60.

Martin Loiperdinger, Ludwig Vogl-Bienek: Lichtspiele und Soziale Frage. In: Marie-Paule Jungblut, Claude Wey (Hg.): Armes Luxemburg? Pauvre Luxembourg? Musée d'Histoire de la Ville de Luxembourg : Luxembourg / Belleville Verlag Farin: Munich 2011, pp. 220-227.

Martin Loiperdinger: Screen History – Medienkulturen der Projektion um 1900. In: AugenBlick. Marburger Hefte zur Medienwissenschaft, no. 52: Positionen und Perspektiven der Filmwissenschaft. Marburg 2011, S. 55-65.

Ludwig Vogl-Bienek: Hautnah am Elend. Live-Inszenierungen sozialdokumentarischer Fotografie in der Projektionskunst um 1900. In: Günter Burkart, Nikolaus Meyer (eds): "Die Welt anhalten". Von Bildern, Fotografie und Wissenschaft. Beltz Juventa: Weinheim, Basel 2016, pp. 354-377.

Ludwig Vogl-Bienek: Slum Life and Living Conditions of the Poor in Fictional and Documentary Lantern Slide Sets: a Lantern Lecture. In: Ludwig Vogl-Bienek, Richard Crangle (eds): Screen Culture and the Social Question 1880-1914. KINtop Studies in Early Cinema, vol. 3. John Libbey Publishing: New Barnet (GB) 2014, pp. 34-63.

Ludwig Vogl-Bienek: Screening Sensations and Live Performance: the Creative Blending of the Traditional and New Projected Media at the Start of the Twentieth Century. In: Kaveh Askari et al. (eds): Performing New Media, 1890-1915. John Libbey Publishing: New Barnet (GB) 2014, pp. 217-226.

Martin Loiperdinger, Ludwig Vogl-Bienek: Im Zeichen der Armut. In: forschung. Das Magazin der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft, vol. 38, no. 2, July 2013, pp. 10-14.
English version:
Martin Loiperdinger, Ludwig Vogl-Bienek: Telling the Story of Poverty in Pictures. Historical images between multimedia presentation and social documentary. In: german research. Magazine of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, 3/2013, pp. 22-27. Screen1900 Research Project