Steven W. Thomas, associate professor of English at Wagner College, and his co-editor and colleague Srividhya Swaminathan, professor of English at Long Island University, have a new book, “The Cinematic Eighteenth Century: History, Culture, and Adaptation,” published in August by Routledge as part of its Advances in Film Studies series.
The 18th century continues to inspire filmmakers to think about questions of freedom, ethnicity, criminality, gender and sexuality by telling stories about a diverse array of subjects from kings and queens to slaves, pirates and revolutionaries. Thomas and Swaminathan worked with other scholars to put together a collection of 11 essays that analyze a variety of popular movies and television shows that either represent 18th century history or adapt 18th century literature, such as the novels of Jane Austen and Daniel Defoe, to the screen.
Recent filmmakers have approached the period in innovative ways, sometimes mixing the historical record with stylistic elements from romance and adventure novels, other times featuring time travel or adapting 18th century novels to sci-fi or satirical comedy. What “The Cinematic Eighteenth Century” demonstrates is the amazing diversity and vitality of the 18th century’s cultural mosaic.
In addition to co-editing the volume and co-authoring its introduction, Professor Thomas’s own chapter, “Cinematic Slavery and the Romance of ‘Belle’,” makes a significant contribution by pushing forward our understanding of how we represent the troubling history of slavery on the screen. Surveying a range of movies produced across the world, from “Ceddo” (Senegal) and “Burn!” (Italy) to “Amazing Grace” (England), “Amistad” (USA) and “Sankofa” (USA, Ethiopia and Ghana), Thomas works through the history of different narrative and cinematic strategies taken by filmmakers for different political goals. He concludes with a detailed analysis of the movie, “Belle” (directed by Amma Asante in 2013), as an example of the innovative directions in which a new generation of filmmakers are taking the subject.
Since coming to Wagner in 2012, Professor Thomas has published his research and taught courses not only on film studies but also on 18th century American literature. His advanced honors course, “Pirates, Puritans and the Revolutionary Atlantic World,” won an Innovative Course Design Award from the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies in 2014. In 2016, he was a Fulbright Scholar in Ethiopia, where he taught film theory at Addis Ababa University.