Screen1900 Member: Karen Eifler

Karen Eifler studied French Literature, Sinology and Media Studies at the Universities of Trier and Lyon III. From 2008 to 2013 she has been researcher in the Screen1900 research projects “The Use of Visual Media in Poor Relief in Great Britain and Germany around 1900” and “The Social Question in Lantern Shows and Early Cinema around 1900” at the University of Trier. In her dissertation The Great Gun of the Lantern she explores the dissemination and performance of lantern lectures for social purposes in Great Britain from 1875 to 1914. She co-edited an interdisciplinary anthology of articles about representations of the ‘other’ family (e.g. families of poor people). With Caroline Henkes, she curated the ROM section of the dvd Screening the Poor 1884-1914. She actually works as an independent researcher, author and proof-reader. Among others, she contributes to “The Companion to the Historical Art of Projection” as an author and editor. Contact: karen_eiflerwebde


Screen1900 Member Karen Eifler: Publications

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

Arbeitskreis Repräsentation: Peter Bell, Katharina Brandes, Clelia Caruso, Karen Eifler et al. (eds): Die ‚andere‘ Familie. Repräsentationskritische Analysen von der frühen Neuzeit bis zur Gegenwart. Sonderforschungsbereich 600: Fremdheit und Armut. Peter Lang: Frankfurt am Main 2011, 497 pp., illustrated.

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.

Karen Eifler: Familienprojektionen. Arme in Lichtbilderaufführungen britischer Wohltätigkeitsorganisationen um 1900. In: Arbeitskreis Repräsentation: Peter Bell, Katharina Brandes, Clelia Caruso, Karen Eifler et al. (eds): Die ›andere‹ Familie. Repräsentationskritische Analysen von der frühen Neuzeit bis zur Gegenwart. Sonderforschungsbereich 600: Fremdheit und Armut. Peter Lang: Frankfurt am Main 2011, pp. 177-215.

Karen Eifler: Between Attraction and Instruction: Lantern Shows in British Poor Relief. In: Early Popular Visual Culture, vol. 8, no. 4 (2010), pp. 363-384. Brigitte Braun, Karen Eifler: „Kommt all heirönn zum Marzens Pitt“ – Kinoerlebnisse mit dem Filmerklärer Peter Marzen. In: Neues Trierisches Jahrbuch, vol. 42 (2002), pp. 173-186.


Karen Eifler: Cinemagoing before Cinema: Lantern illustrated lectures in British poor relief. Poster presentation at NECS Conference: Media Politics, Political Media. Charles University, Prague, June 2013.

Karen Eifler: “The audience was a medium”: Lantern exhibitions for social purposes in Great Britain. Early Cinema Colloquium. University of Trier, April 2013.

Karen Eifler: Feeding and Entertaining the Poor: Lantern and Cinematograph Shows combined with Food Distribution in Great Britain and Germany. 11th International Domitor Conference: Beyond the Screen: Institutions, Networks and Publics of Early Cinema. Ryerson University, Toronto, June 2010.

Karen Eifler: Aufführungen mit Lichtbildern und Filmen bei Armenspeisungen in Großbritannien und Deutschland. Early Cinema Colloquium. University of Trier, May 2010.

Karen Eifler: Between Attraction and Instruction: Magic Lantern Shows in British poor relief. Conference: Instruction, Amusement and Spectacle: Popular Shows and Exhibitions, 1800-1914. University of Exeter, April 2009.

Screen1900 Member Karen Eifler: Dissertation (abstract)

In 1912, the Church Army, in a review about a Van mission with several open-air lantern lectures in Blackley, spoke of the “the great gun of the lantern” (Church Army Gazette, 20 April 1912, p. 8). This military expression perfectly frames the aim of my PhD project – I wanted to find out how this missionary and other organizations active in social work utilised the lantern as a ‘weapon’. My main research question was: What was the role of lantern entertainments, organized for social purposes in Britain from 1875 to 1914, for the public?

As the quoted review reveals, lantern slides, at least in the non-commercial field of social care, were in common use until at least the early 1910s. Therefore, my research especially focused on the period after the introduction of cinema: My study also set out to counteract the common place in media history of ‘the lantern’ as a precursor of cinema. I approach this fascinating period – a time when lanternists still considered the cinematograph and the lantern as two different forms of the same apparatus – through the concept of the ‘screen’ and its role in practice, culture and history(1).

Unlike the few other studies about the non-commercial use of lantern slides, I investigated lantern practices beyond the local level, taking in Britain as a whole. Drawing upon a great variety of printed resources, I suggest that lantern entertainments for social purposes played a crucial role in establishing projection media as a whole. Through extensive archival research, I assembled a large body of reports on events with lantern slide projections from the official organs of missionary, educative and temperance organizations of either religious or socio-political orientation.

Reports in these journals, annual reports, local newspaper reports and the trade press, indicate that non-commercial lantern entertainments (mostly combined with other visual attractions and live performances) were immensely popular over time and space. Such events were organized well into the 20th century, after the introduction of the cinematograph. In fact, the years 1906 to 1908 mark a peak of these lantern performances, and until World War I, according to the reviews, there is no significant drop in their popularity. For me, this was very surprising and lead me to the conclusion that social organizations relied on effective distribution and exhibition strategies.

The creation of professional lantern departments allowed social organizations to intensify and to control the use of lantern slides. Itinerant lantern lectures resulted in millions of people regularly viewing pictures projected on a screen. Through lantern lectures, social organizations attracted a ‘mass’ audience – a large proportion of Britain’s population. The extent of distribution was probably comparable to that of commercial enterprises (e.g. Riley Brothers, W.C. Hughes, Noakes & Norman, Walter Tyler).

The actual use of the lantern was, however, central to my study. Even among the few researchers in this area, knowledge about the historic exhibition of lantern slides is still scarce. As the target groups and aims of these social organizations are known, I was able to find out more about this. Through the detailed analysis of a smaller number of single reports, I identified numerous exhibition practices that social organizations used to attract, to impress and to (permanently) engage their audiences. I assumed that their strategy was to provide them with sensory, intimate and interactive experiences: First, lantern performances were usually integrated into varied programmes with diverse attractions. Events in the open air, processions and exotic costumes often aroused much attention even before the lantern exhibitions. The projections were mostly combined with music and other live performances. These multisensory events created lasting impressions. Second, lantern slides were used to establish close relationships with audiences. Through using local views and honing their messages to reflect the audience’s life experience, social organizations created cheerful, familiar get-togethers. The lantern lecturers were often popular figures and made contact with their audiences outside the lantern events as well – the social organizations’ agents were ‘approachable heroes’. Third, through sing-alongs, stage appearances and competitions, audiences actively participated in the events. For example, by appealing to patriotic feelings, social organizations were able to merge identities and in this way intensified feelings of shared identity. Last, but not least, the ‘great gun of the lantern’ had a major effect because all these exhibition practices intertwined and were associated through images with social practices such as processions, church services, feasts and common singing.

Viewing the use of lantern slides in social care in a broader media-historical context, I came to the conclusion that the social organizations’ use of ‘the’ lantern as ‘a great gun’ contributed greatly to the establishment of the ‘screen’ as a centre for visual communication in Britain. Like contemporary food giants (such as Maggi in Switzerland and Stollwerck in Germany), they established exhibition practices which led audiences to participate emotionally using efficient, persuasive strategies. Especially through lantern lectures on patriotic subjects, they contributed to strengthening the British national identity. Perhaps the origins of visual political propaganda can be traced back to lantern performances for social purposes(2). It is, however, certain that they boomed at about the time when cinematography was introduced and film evolved as an independent medium – in the 1890s and 1900s. However, social organizations continued to offer regular lantern performances to audiences until at least World War II. Probably they continued to enjoy great popularity because they fulfilled important entertainment and social needs.

(1) Charles Musser (1990): The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907. New York: Scribners, p. 17-20, and ibid. (2004): “Towards a History of Theatrical Culture: Imagining an Integrated History of Stage and Screen”. In: John Fullerton (ed.): Screen Culture. History and Textuality. Eastleigh: John Libbey (Stockholm Studies in Cinema), 3-19, here 3-4.

(2) See also Stephen Bottomore, “The Lantern and Cinematograph for Political Persuasion before WWI: Towards an Introduction and Typology”. In: Richard Crangle, Ludwig Vogl-Bienek (eds), Screen Culture and the Social Question 1880-1914, New Barnet 2014, p. 21-33.

Further reading:

Link to abstract of article “Between instruction and amusement”:

Link to article “Feeding and entertaining the poor”: