The medical public health film as a mode of communication between science, medicine, public and society in France, 1900-1960

Auditorium MISHA, Université de Strasbourg, France
Christian Bonah / Vincent Lowy
20.06.2014 - 21.06.2014
Christian Bonah

Information, persuasion, propaganda. The medical public health film as a mode of communication between science, medicine, public and society in France, 1900-1960.

This conference aims at a better understanding of French health film production between 1900 and 1960 from a national and an international perspective.

Preliminary subthemes of the conference include:

1) The French production of medical and public health film between 1900 and 1960. Privileged subjects, forms of distribution, preeminent figures

2) French medical and public health film in international context, 1900-1960

3) Towards an internationalization of medical and public health film, 1900-1960

Recent historical and audio-visual studies have underlined the potential of non-commercial “utility” film as a means to perceive the large-scale diffusion of the representations that a given society makes of the world and of itself. Further, they prompt a questioning of the status of images in the production of memory and of the circulation of such images in structuring spheres of scientific, technological, industrial, pedagogical or amateur expertise. For the field of health, medicine and hygiene film, the MEDFILM project treats audio-visual archives as vectors of communicating health politics, illnesses, modalities of prevention and care, either to a targeted audience or to the general public.

Illness/disease, whether taken as a social fact, a scourge or a stigma, alongside patient-caregiver relations and the ideologies of successive health politics incite various forms of discourse: unanimous communication from the medical institution, controversial information from the press, intimate creativity from individual artists, inquisitive reflections from philosophers, etc. Film remains the clearest medium to see and demonstrate these, as well as a medium that privileges collective exchange and reflection. Potential entries for communications at the conference include diseases, film directors, production companies, specific periods, actors, planned health campaigns amongst other.

This international conference aims to begin with an exploration of the essential character of French health films produced between 1900 and 1960 through studies of their common subjects, their modes of diffusion, and their major figures. We ask if, in the history of these productions, it is possible to observe a reflection of different health politics that were implemented in the pieces, or whether this is but a marginal testimony to which cinema was an artefact. Further, we intend to situate health related films in the wider environment of their film historical contingencies and their production, screening and reception context.

Considering a health institution’s approach and their relations with audio-visual media in a given country is all the more interesting if the reflection is broadened to considering it within an international scope. In the second part of the conference, we ask if the subjects and mise-en-scene of French productions were singular. Herein we invite international scholars to establish elements from their respective countries to be compared in the scope of the conference with French productions. Finally, we will concentrate on internationalisation in the post-war era, a period in which international health organisations were developed, and subsequently a new type of cinematographic production to promote them.

The conference will benefit from the MEDFILM platform ( which includes films produced for health campaigns, educational and informational films for schools and professionals, as well as films for all other health purposes as a potential starting point for further inquiry and analysis.

Please send inquiries and maximum 500 word abstracts to :

Deadline for abstract submission : January 5th 2014
Response to participants by the organizing committee : February 7th 2014
To enhance exchange during the bilingual conference we intend to precirculate participant’s papers/abstracts by : May 20th 2014.


Christian Bonah

SAGE-DHVS UMR 7363, Université de Strasbourg

The medical public health film as a mode of communication between science, medicine, public and society in France, 1900-1960, 20.06.2014 – 21.06.2014 Strasbourg, in: H-Soz-Kult, 08.12.2013, <>.