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History of the American Motion Picture
Written Assignment 1: Research Paper
Spring 2005
Due Wednesday, April 27
6-7 pages, double spaced, 12-point font, standard margins.
Submit TWO copies of your paper to your TA before the start of lecture.
Select a topic in American film history prior to 1939. Focus on an event, technology, concept,
individual or group of individuals that played a decisive role in the development of American
cinema. Your final paper should outline comprehensively the specific origins and effects of
your selected topic and clearly explain its historical significance.
Choose your topic carefully, making sure that it is neither too broad nor too narrow. Keep the
length of the assignment in mind – within the space of six to seven pages, you will need both
to describe and to analyze effectively your topic, properly citing relevant sources throughout.
The best papers are those that are able to present a clear and insightful historical account of
their topic – describing the major contexts and causes – and to offer original conclusions as to
why the topic is important and worthy of study. It will not be enough simply to summarize
the history of your topic, as it has been already written in the standard histories of American
The first four decades of the American cinema contain a wealth of fascinating research topics
so don’t despair if you can’t think of one right away. A careful review of the readings, your
lecture and section notes, and the films screened in class can provide a spark of inspiration. A
thoughtful initial selection process will save you time and trouble later. For example, more
“obvious” or all-encompassing topics, such as Hollywood’s transition to sound or D.W.
Griffith’s role in the development of film narrative, are too broad to be properly covered in an
assignment of this scope. Your topic will need to be more narrowly focused. Also, because
“obvious” topics have been extensively researched and written about, the task of writing an
original essay becomes all the more difficult. In these cases, it becomes absolutely imperative
to have your own “angle,” or specific approach, that will set your work apart.
Please keep in mind that this is a history assignment, not a critical review of a given film or
filmmaker. Any opinions or conjectures made in your paper need to be carefully substantiated
by your specific research. In general, overstatements, such as “the greatest” or the “most
important,” add little to your paper. A relatively short assignment such as this is better served
by more modest claims. After you have selected your topic, your TA can help you develop
and refine it to maximize its originality and value as historical research.

1. All topics MUST be approved by your TA. You will need to submit a written
statement explaining the topic you have selected and the goals of your paper. You also
should include a bibliography and a working thesis. You TA will let you know
specifically how to approve your topic. No paper will be accepted whose topic was
not first approved.
2. You are required to use a minimum of three sources for your research. Sources
can be books and scholarly articles in journals or in the popular press. A wide
selection of relevant source material has been placed on reserve for the class in the
Arts Library, located in 1400 Public Policy. (The reserve list can be found at
http://ereserves.library.ucla.edu). For secondary sources, try to include post-1980
materials to benefit from the recent extensive work done in the field of film history. If
you choose to use internet resources, these should be cited and used in addition to your
three sources, not as a substitute. While Movie Made America and your class notes
certainly can be consulted, they should not constitute one of your major sources.
3. All information and ideas adapted from another source must be properly cited with
either footnotes or endnotes. In addition, all direct quotations and their sources must
be clearly indicated. Please consult either the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research
Papers or The Chicago Manual of Style for the correct citation procedures. You may
use either MLA or Chicago style but please choose only one and be consistent
throughout the paper.
4. Be sure to state your thesis clearly and concisely at the end of your introduction. You
may want to underline your thesis statement to help you remain focused on your stated
goals throughout your paper. You will be expected to write in university-level
English, free of errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation. If you feel you need help
with your writing, meet with your TA or visit the Writing Center in Covel Commons.
If you have questions or are unsure about something, contact your TA before the paper
is due so he or she can help you find a solution.

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