Our new blog comes from stipend holder Dr Malcolm Cook from the University of Southampton. Malcolm used our collection to look at the history of 'useful' animation, particularly in forms such as the magic lantern where moving or transforming images are used to educate or instruct.  


 The history of animation has typically been concerned with its use for entertainment or art. However, animation has also often been utilised to educate and persuade in fields such as science, teaching, and advertising. Animation inherited from earlier practices the simplicity of graphic forms, such as diagrams, and the appeals of personality and eye-grabbing design, such as the use of anthropomorphism. Allied with the movement allowed by moving image techniques, animation shaped, and was shaped by, new spheres of knowledge and expertise in the twentieth century. The recent interest and growth in the study of ‘Useful Cinema’ (Acland and Wasson 2011) provides a framework and impetus for exploring this hidden history. I have been collaborating with Michael Cowan (St Andrews) and Scott Curtis (Northwestern University in the USA) to develop research into this field of ‘Useful Animation’ and a stipend as visiting researcher at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum offered the opportunity to explore this topic and its genealogy in pre-cinema.



Acland, Charles R., and Haidee Wasson, eds. 2011. Useful Cinema. Durham: Duke University Press.



Malcolm Cook is Associate Professor of Film Studies at the University of Southampton. His book Early British Animation: From Page and Stage to Cinema Screens was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018. He is currently researching the role of advertising in the history of animation, and has written several chapters on this topic, which appear in The Animation Studies Reader (Bloomsbury, 2018) and Aardman Animations: Beyond Stop-Motion (Bloomsbury, 2020), and has co-edited (with Kirsten Moana Thompson) the recently published collection Animation and Advertising (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019).


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