Department of History

Cinema and Medicine in Early Soviet Russia

Project summary

This Wellcome Trust funded project explores the intersection of medical knowledge, cinematic technology, and revolutionary agendas of body-mind transformation in Soviet Russia between 1917 and 1936. It focuses on three key sites of cross-fertilisation between cinema and medical expertise: the health education film; psychological and medical research on film spectators; and the use of film in psychotherapy.

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I show how the films released during the early Soviet period to educate the masses on contagious diseases, alcohol and tobacco consumption, as well as matters of reproduction and sexual health, articulated new models of healthy living and structured a biomedical way of seeing. Exploring the film viewer experiments conducted by Soviet psychologists and health professionals in the 1920s and 1930s, I trace a link between the acquisition of medical knowledge about the spectator and the development of new film industry practices and models of spectatorship. Finally, I bring to light the ways in which cinema was deployed in psychiatric practice to document, as well as to treat and prevent, mental disorders.

As part of the project, a two-day international symposium entitled ‘Technologies of Mind and Body in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc’ was held at Nottingham in 2019.

The project has been awarded £22,000 from the Wellcome Trust for public engagement activities, which will include film screenings, a film installation and a community workshop.


Selected publication

Anna Toropova, ‘Probing the Heart and Mind of the Viewer: Scientific Studies of Film and Theater Spectators in the Soviet Union, 1917-1936’, Slavic Review, 76, no. 4 (Winter 2017) Open Access

Department of History

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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