Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Journalism and Media Studies

First Committee Member

Julian Kilker

Second Committee Member

Lawrence Mullen

Third Committee Member

Olesya Venger

Fourth Committee Member

Robert Futrell

Number of Pages



This thesis examines the birth and evolution of the social documentary genre in visual media. It proposes that a mixture of ideology, technology, and social awareness are necessary for a successful social reform. Its review and study of related primary and secondary sources determines that despite the limitations of technology during the nineteenth century, social documentaries were produced long before they were part of the genres of photography and film. By focusing on the work of Danish photographer Jacob Riis and tracing the emergence of the film medium through time, this thesis demonstrates a strong connection between documentary film and Riis's social documentary photography and public slide exhibitions. The thesis supports the idea that in order to understand the present, one must study the past, and in these terms, Riis's work should be viewed as one of the chief precursors of the social documentary genre in visual media. Ultimately, the thesis determines the importance of the role of visual documentary in society, the idea that it anchors historical and collective memory, and its history is still relevant to the twenty-first century.


Documentary film; Documentary photography; Photography; Photojournalism; Riis; Jacob A. (Jacob August); 1849-1914; Social change; Social documentary; Social problems; Visual media


Broadcast and Video Studies | Film and Media Studies | Inequality and Stratification | Journalism Studies | Sociology

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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