Museum Archives Moving Image Collection

The Moving Image Collection documents the Museum’s involvement in scientific explorations, experiences with other cultures, and public education. The Moving Image Collection was generated by the institution's collecting, exhibiting and teaching activities. A significant portion of the Moving Image Collection was created during the 1920's and 30's when the Museum sponsored many expeditions around the world. Expedition members used film to document their activities and the daily life of people they encountered. Museum trustees and affiliates were invited to contribute films from their personal travels.

At the turn of the 20th century the rapid development of motion picture technology presented a novel way to bring far-off places and peoples to burgeoning urban populations. Due to the generosity of several Chicago patrons, The Field Museum was one of the only US museums able to produce feature length documentary films (others included the American Museum in New York and the Smithsonian). Between 1914 and the late 1960s the Museum commissioned the production of at least 50 films, which were subsequently used in many Museum education programs and were an integral part of the Field’s Saturday film series for more than 40 years.

Many of the Field’s films were produced in house by the Motion Picture Division, formed after World War II, and are among the most vivid visual representations of the first decades of the 20th century. These films include unique footage of Arctic, Native American and Middle Eastern cultures at a time when scientists were scrambling to study these vanishing cultures. These films also provide us with footage on archaeological excavations, travel narratives and early eco-tourism. Additionally, others, such as the Curtis’ 1914 film In the Land of the Headhunters are exceptionally important as historical and early ethnographic films.