English Professor Receives Prestigious Book Award

Associate Professor Joshua Yumibe is the recipient of the 2019-2020 Katherine Singer Kovács Book Award for his most recent book, Chromatic Modernity: Color, Cinema, and Media of the 1920s, which was published in April 2019 by Columbia University Press.  Yumibe, who is a member of the Department of English faculty, will receive this award in April at the 2020 Society of Cinema and Media Studies Annual Conference in Seattle, Washington, along with his co-author, Sarah Street, who is a Professor of Film at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.

Each year, the Katherine Singer Kovács Book Award recognizes an outstanding publication in the field of cinema and media studies. The prize highlights original works that significantly advance scholarship and thinking in the field.

“I’m immensely honored to receive this award and am delighted to share it with Sarah Street who is such a brilliant collaborator and friend,” Yumibe said.

Chromatic Modernity: Color, Cinema, and Media of the 1920s considers the influence of color in the arts to produce a broad, comparative investigation that establishes color cinema within the chromatic culture of the 1920s. At its essence, the book investigates how color reshaped the modern world.

Chromatic Modernity: Color, Cinema, and Media of the 1920s

“The book is about the use of color in film and media in the 1920s, something which has not been examined in detail before,” Yumibe said. “The 1920s is a pinnacle decade in terms of developments in cinema, towards a mass medium, as well as pronounced changes in art and industry, which in many ways were driven in part by the expansion of color technologies following World War I. Thinking about these chromatic developments in cinema, modernist art and design, and industry together provides a crucial lens through which to view the decade and connect it to ongoing media and cultural changes still happening today.”

In the book, Yumibe and Street investigate a range of European and American films, such as Lichtspiel Opus 1 (1921), L’Inhumaine (1923), Die Nibelungen (1924), The Phantom of the Opera (1925), The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927), Napoléon (1927), and Dracula (1931). They examine current dialectics regarding the artistic, scientific, philosophical, and educational significance of color.

“The study of color film touches on topics including modernism, aesthetic theory, chemistry, and feminism,” Yumibe said. “You can spend your life going down rabbit holes. You start pulling one strand, and you end up moving from Derrida to the German aniline colorant industry to the Greeks.”

Yumibe and Street began collaboration on the project in 2012 with funding from a Leverhulme Research Project grant. The $400,000 grant supported expansive archival research with the aid of two postdoctoral students, Dr. Bregt Lameris and Dr. Vicky Jackson.

Yumibe is the Director of Film Studies at Michigan State University. His research and teaching focus on the aesthetic and technological history of cinema. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 2007 and six years later, in January 2013, he started working at MSU.

The Katherine Singer Kovács Book Award honors the memory of Professor Kovács, who died in May of 1989 and who once served as a faculty member at Stanford University, the University of Southern California, and Whittier College. She also was a member of the Modern Language Association (MLA). The award was established in 1990 by her parents.