REPORT: BRITISH LIFE ON FILM: HISTORY AND THE FILM ARCHIVE SYMPOSIUM, 11 MAY 2019, KING’S COLLEGE LONDON

Stephen Morgan, King’s College, London (KCL)

17 June 2019


The flourishing of digital resources in recent years has undoubtedly transformed the practice of film scholarship, especially the work of film historians. Digital access to archival records, as well as repositories such as the Media History Digital Library, the British Newspaper Archive, and the National Library of Australia’s Trove Newspapers collection (amongst many others), have greatly increased our flexibility in drawing upon disparate sources to shape more rounded understandings of the past, and have arguably allowed for a much greater sense of the media and cultural ecosystems within which film texts emerge at particular historical moments.

Alongside these resources – and running in parallel to the rise of mainstream video streaming services such as Netflix – has been the increased access to archival films afforded by institutional websites and social media. In Britain, this has been led by the BFI Player, which draws not only on the national collection, but also from the collections of regional film archives across the UK. Digital platforms such as these have become a primary way of engaging with archival film, and many scholars and creative practitioners – whether casually browsing or searching with intent – have found such resources shaping their work in a myriad of interesting ways.

These engagements with digital archival resources – particularly the BFI Player’s Britain on Film portal – formed the basis for British Life on Film, a one-day symposium hosted by Lawrence Napper at King’s College London. Across a full day of papers, speakers were invited to consider the impact of these repositories in helping to shape, or re-shape, our approaches to film research, practice, and pedagogy. In doing so, the symposium was consciously picking up the baton of recent thinking about ‘useful cinema’, which aims to move the focus of film scholarship beyond the sacrosanct world of the theatrical feature film as entertainment and/or art. As a result, the day also shared considerable terrain with the recent British Women Documentary Filmmakers symposium held across the Strand at LSE.

Screenshot from Amateur Talkies (Sid Douglas, 1956). Source: BFI Player

Drawing together film historians, media scholars, educators, programmers, and archivists, the day provided a fascinating and stimulating range of papers, all sparked by – or directly relevant to – this recent proliferation of online archival film, and associated digital technologies.

The day began with a panel focused on the use of archival film in various forms of practice. Angela English kicked things off with a discussion of her work engaging local audiences from ‘new towns’ with films from regional archives, and a consideration of some of the ‘microhistories’ this opens up. In a paper that combined some heavy theorising with some equally mesmerising imagery, Marc Bosward (University of Derby) outlined some of the approaches that underpin his PhD in creative practice, for which he draws upon the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales and some digital wizardry to create stunning works of ‘realist collage’.

More technical wizardry was required to facilitate the final speaker of the first panel, Alberto Gerosa, who introduced us to Think Young LAB’s Deep Memory Pier project, which aims to consolidate a sense of identity and community in the Sham Shui Po neighbourhood of Hong Kong through shared memories and experiences. The outputs of this fascinating project include a collaborative sci-fi film (inspired by Chris Marker’s La Jetee), and the simultaneous creation of an ‘amateur’ moving image archive that documents the everyday realities of life in Asia’s ‘global city’.

Teaser for Deep Memory Pier (ThinkYoung LAB, 2018)

After a well-earned coffee, the day’s second panel began with Lucie Dutton, whose stellar work in reviving the reputation of British film director Maurice Elvey has taken her down some rather interesting, often fruitful, research routes. For this paper, Dutton treated us to the virtues of archival streaming as investigative tool, ably demonstrating how a newsreel allowed her to highlight a key detail in the making of Elvey’s ill-fated masterwork The Life Story of David Lloyd George (1918).

Also on the second panel were two papers demonstrating the importance of regional archives in helping to uncover overlooked contributors to amateur film collections. Zoe Viney (Wessex Film & Sound Archive / University of Southampton) outlined her PhD project, which seeks to look beyond the ‘man with the movie camera’ by exploring questions of gender and class that arise within the amateur holdings of WFSA. This was followed by a part presentation, part-reminiscence, led by filmmaker Martina Attille, who introduced us to the work of prolific Teesside-based amateur filmmaker Betty Cook, via the reflections of Betty’s son Martin Cook and the work of the North East Film Archive.

Screenshot from Teeside Inaugural Procession (Betty Cook, 1968). Source: North East Film Archive / Yorkshire Film Archive

The lunch break allowed for much needed reflection on a morning packed with stimulating papers, and a brief respite before another fascinating panel, this time shifting the conversation to the place of archival film in pedagogy and programming. Kulraj Phullar (King’s College London) proposed a shift away from the standard view of British Asian cinema, and one that places great importance on the greater integration of short films and television – much of which is available via the BFI Player – in helping to reorient ourselves towards a specifically anti-racist vision of British film history. This direct challenge to the established canon was further underscored by the work of SUPAKINO founder, Ranjit S. Ruprai, whose searches of online film archives have helped shape his curatorial practice, and given added impetus to his Turbans Seen on Screen project. In the final paper of this panel, Shane O’Sullivan (Kingston University London) highlighted his Archives for Education project, a pedagogical resource that seeks to open up the digital archive to creative re-use, and provides an illustrative case study of how archival film can enhance the teaching of documentary film practice, whilst also engaging students with local and national histories.

Kulraj Phullar on ‘British Asians and Anti-Racism: In and With the Archive’

The potential for archival film to help disrupt the canon was also central to the final panel of the day, which contained a trio of papers highlighting the intersections between political, activist, and instructional filmmaking. Stephanie Cattigan (University of Glasgow) offered an account of the work of the Scottish Film Council’s Industrial Panel, and how film’s use as a promotional and instructive tool shaped its very production and circulation in post-war Scotland. George Legg (King’s College London) drew upon several films – including Chris Reeves’ 1980 documentary H-Block Hunger Strike – to help articulate the importance of monotony and control in the incarceration practices employed during the Northern Irish Troubles. Finally, Hannah Hamad (University of Cardiff) sought to place the Leeds Animation Workshop’s Give Us a Smile (1983) in its precise historical context, demonstrating its role in making sense of persistent cultures of misogyny in post-‘Ripper’ Yorkshire.

Extract from Give Us A Smile (Leeds Animation Workshop, 1983)

Despite a packed day of stimulating papers, one of the disappointments of this symposium was that the inclusion of such a broad a range of topics inevitably left relatively little space for discussion and debate. This was particularly evident during the rather truncated closing roundtable, which nevertheless allowed for both summarising remarks and some brief provocations.

As Head of Non-Fiction at the BFI National Archive, Patrick Russell queried the nature of academic engagement, or the perceived lack thereof, with archival film. A longer roundtable may, perhaps, have got around to debating persistent issues of access, with the contention that academics are ‘finally’ engaging with archival film having a lot to do with legacies of inaccessibility, especially for scholars who were not within easy distance of physical archives. Other questions of access, meanwhile, spoke to the public’s engagement with online archives, and thus to their ‘usefulness’ for the general public.

Likewise, the question and answer sessions after each panel consistently threw up questions of ethics, not just in terms of production, but also the role of memory and the creative reuse of archives. Indeed, among the persistent themes of the day were the political implications and applicability of archival films, not only as texts themselves, but also in terms of the institutional systems and structures that govern what is made available and when.

Regardless of academia’s history of engagement with archival film, British Life on Film: History and the Film Archives highlighted the growing importance of online archives in our ongoing intellectual engagement with British cinema, and its intersections with social, cultural, industrial, and political histories. In drawing together both practitioners and academics – many of whom are current or recently graduated doctoral researchers – this symposium went some way to demonstrating that such engagements should occur not just in the supposed ‘ivory towers’ of elite institutions, but within the public sphere in which these archival films are being given a new lease of life.


Dr Stephen Morgan is a film and cultural historian, programmer, and occasional moving image archivist. As well as teaching film studies at King’s College London and the University of Greenwich, he is the screening coordinator for the Menzies Australia Institute (KCL) and assistant programmer for the London Australian Film Society. (www.drsmorgan.com)


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.


 

A Day at the Archives …. The Times (News UK Archives)

Hélène Maloigne, University College London (UCL)

4 June 2019


Tucked away in the corner of an industrial estate in northeast London is one of the country’s most important newspaper archives. The News UK Archives, which incorporate The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun, The TLS among others, are housed by a records management firm in one of its large storage facilities in Enfield. The small reading room provides access for only two to three researchers at a time and boasts an impressive library of books in addition to the correspondence files and newspaper issues.

I visited the archive conducting research for my PhD thesis, which explores how archaeologists in the interwar period communicated with the public. My main sources for this are the texts, and the visual and aural materials written and created by archaeologists for a general public. They offer a unique and underexplored source for the historian of the discipline of archaeology as much as for the historian of the interwar period. The sheer volume of books, articles and radio talks attest to the popularity of archaeology – whether it was practiced in Britain or abroad – across society and throughout the period. Focussing on British archaeologists working in Iraq, I explore the collaborative, socially and historically rooted character of archaeology. The history of archaeology is often told as a procession of great discoveries, leading scholars like Ariadne’s thread along a linear path of progress towards knowledge and the refinement of method. The men making these discoveries are often portrayed as lone explorers in an uncivilized foreign country ‘discovering’ lost cities, similar to the image of the scientist making ground-breaking discoveries shut away alone in his laboratory. Yet, it has been conclusively shown that science – and the generation of knowledge more generally – never happens in a social or historical vacuum. Similarly, archaeology is a collaborative activity, especially excavation or fieldwork.

My own background is in archaeology of the Ancient Near East and I still work in the field during the summer excavation seasons. But over the years I have become interested in how we as archaeologists talk to non-specialists. Many people I meet have a particular period in the past they are fascinated by and have visited museums or read books or seen films about it. While most archaeologists roll their eyes when someone mentions Indiana Jones I fully embrace the impact this character – and the real-life inspirations for it I study – has had on the popular imagination.

The interwar period (the setting for the Indiana Jones films) is often called the golden age of archaeology. It was a time of spectacular discoveries such as the tomb of Tutankhamun in Egypt, the amphitheatre at Caerleon in Wales, the Indus Valley civilization in modern-day Pakistan, or at Lubaantun in modern-day Belize. In the Middle East, archaeologists were working at Ur in southern Iraq, discovering the spectacular ‘Royal Graves’ of the 3rd millennium BC, digging down to the 5th millennium at Nineveh and finding a whole host of prehistoric sites which revolutionised the understanding of the development of urban spaces, the invention of writing, the domestication of animals and many other aspects of human society. The aesthetics of these ancient civilizations, so uncannily familiar and at the same time strikingly new, were taken up in modern art, fashion and applied arts, and clearly spoke to a wide range of readers (and listeners). This popularity allowed archaeologists with a talent for accessible writing to speak directly to their public.

Archaeology was, and still is, strongly intertwined with politics, the creation of national communities and, through its reliance on exploration and conquest, with the colonial and imperialist aspects of Western society. The demise of the Ottoman Empire after World War One had led to the creation of the British and French Mandate areas in the Middle East. The increase in archaeological activity in the 1920s and 1930s in Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon was dependent and facilitated by the ease of access to governing bodies, transport routes and local labour well-connected archaeologists enjoyed. In turn, this propelled fieldwork and analytical methods ahead in great strides, leading to a professionalization of the discipline, which expressed itself in the founding of university institutes, professional societies and academic journals.

My research looks at this intersection of archaeology; the making of the professional archaeologist and the public fascination for her/his work.

This somewhat long-winded introduction thus leads us back to my visit to the News UK Archive. The interwar years were an age of mass media, especially newspapers. The archaeologists I study were shrewd publicisers of their work, and newspapers and magazines of the Twenties and Thirties abound with articles written by archaeologists reporting on their work. But writing a newspaper article that captures the attention of the lay reader on her morning commute or at home after a long day at the office or the factory requires very different skills than publishing in a scholarly journal or presenting at a conference, and not all archaeologists were equally good at it. Charles Leonard Woolley (1880–1960), my main case study, was one of them. Between 1922 and 1937 he published 58 articles about his excavations at Ur in The Times (in addition to a number of other newspapers), and it was these I was interested in exploring further.

Woolley never held a university or curatorial position after his return from World War One intelligence work (he spent part of the war as a PoW in a Turkish camp), focussing instead on a career in fieldwork. Before his appointment as the director of the Ur excavations in 1922, he had worked in modern-day Turkey, Britain, Italy, Sudan and Egypt. The Ur excavations were co-funded by the British Museum and the University Museum – now called the Penn Museum at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia – but the project suffered from chronic underfunding, exacerbated by the Great Depression from 1929 onwards. Writing newspaper articles was therefore not only a great way of announcing discoveries, it also contributed significantly to Woolley’s uncertain income.

The Times had made one of its most successful arrangements with Howard Carter (1874–1939) and the 5th Earl of Carnarvon (1866–1923), the excavators of the tomb of Tutankhamun, which Carter discovered in 1922. The newspaper paid £5000 upfront for the exclusive rights to the story as well as for worldwide syndication. This demonstrated to readers, editors, newspaper proprietors and archaeologists alike that archaeology paid well. The Times thus approached Woolley proposing a similar arrangement, which he turned down, as he preferred not to be bound to one publication. Nevertheless, his articles appeared regularly in The Times and I wanted to know what price its editors put on archaeology. Unfortunately no correspondence between Woolley and staff at the newspaper’s offices survive, but Anne Jensen, Assistant Archivist at the News UK Archive, suggested I view microfilm copies of issues marked up with what a contributor had been paid for his or her article.

Figures 1 and 2: Marked-up copies of The Times, 7 July 1927

While I am mainly interested in articles published under the archaeologist’s name, these mark-ups are also particularly useful for understanding anonymous contributions, as the author’s name is recorded along with his fee. Woolley received between £3.2.0 in 1922 and £21.0.0 in 1928 for an article, the year of his major discoveries in the ‘Royal Graves’.[i] This wide scale is difficult to understand without further supporting archival material. The Times introduced its first picture page in 1922 or 1923 and photographs of the excavation were priced individually, usually at £1.0.0 or £1.1.0. Pictures, most often showing views of the site or objects, accompanied about half of the articles.

While article length and the number of images supplied certainly played a role, my research indicates that more significant, or rather more ‘spectacular’, discoveries commanded higher fees. But Woolley wrote not only about gods, graves and gold vessels; he also capitalized on the foreign and ‘exotic’ setting of his work. He often wrote about the people he worked with, and the support he received from his wife Katharine Elizabeth Woolley (1888–1945), an archaeologist, illustrator and author in her own right, and his foreman and life-long friend Sheik Hamoudi ibn Ibrahim el Awassi (c. 1875–1953). In these ‘life on a dig’ articles he talked about months spent in a barren landscape, working long hours, often from sunrise well into the night, overseeing a workforce of up to 400 men, and excavating anything from monumental temple towers to tiny fragments of gold leaf. These reports proved popular with The Times readers (as well as The Daily Mail, The Observer, and The Illustrated London News, where he also published) and Woolley wrote three to five of these per year, in addition to articles describing excavation results. The fees for these two types of articles did not differ substantially; the mark-ups show a range between £5 and £17 across the years I looked at.

The development of archaeology as a discipline is intricately bound up with its place in society. The better an archaeologist was at popularising his work and connecting with the public, the more successful he was in securing funding, commanding a place amongst his peers and subsequently contributing to the maturing of the discipline. We therefore must look beyond internalist accounts of methodological or theoretical ‘progress’ and the string of ‘great discoveries’ to understand how knowledge is created and shared both among professionals and with the public. Newspaper articles and archival material contribute substantially to this task and researchers will find a wealth of unexplored sources at News UK Archives.

Further information on the News UK Archives can be found at:

@NewsUKArchives

https://newslicensing.co.uk/en/page/show_home_page.html

The archive is open to accredited researchers on 2 days per week by appointment only. It is located near Southbury station in Enfield, north London.

Contact News UK Archives on: archive-sm@news.co.uk


[i]      The conversion of worth into current terms is notoriously difficult. https://www.measuringworth.com/index.php [Accessed 1 April 2019]


Hélène Maloigne is completing her PhD at the Department of History at UCL. Her study looks at the way in which British archaeologists working in the Middle East in the interwar period communicated with the public via books, newspapers and radio broadcasts. She has studied archaeology, ancient languages and art history in Switzerland and museum studies at UCL. She has worked in museums in Switzerland and the UK, as a teaching assistant at UCL and, since 2012, as the small finds registrar at the Tell Atchana/ancient Alalakh excavations in Turkey.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

A Day at the Archives…. National University of Ireland, Galway

Veronica Johnson, National University of Ireland, Galway

22 May 2019


I’m writing this blog while sitting in the archive that I’m about to describe. It’s a beautiful early spring day. To the right and in front of me I can see vast swathes of daffodils through the floor to ceiling windows that occupy two sides of the Special Collections Reading Room where all archives and special collections material are examined. It’s quite here today, just two other manuscript researchers and three online researchers.

I first came here in February 2017 when I was lucky enough to receive a Moore Institute fellowship https://mooreinstitute.ie/ which funds up to one month in this archive. This fellowship also provides a desk in the Hardiman research building and access to the main Hardiman library. I came to examine the Shield’s Family Archive and the Abbey Theatre Archive as part of my research into the Film Company of Ireland (1916-1920). I was interested in the relationship between this first significant Irish fiction film company and the Abbey Theatre as the owners of the Film Company of Ireland hired most of their actors and directors from the Abbey Theatre. Very little is known about this area, so I was delighted to have access to two archives that might shed some light on the interactions between the theatre and the film company.

The Shield’s Family Archive relates mostly to the actor Arthur Shields, who began his career in the Abbey Theatre and then had a long career in film and television in America. He is best known for his work with John Ford, playing the protestant minister in The Quiet Man (1952) when his more well-known brother William Joseph Shields (Barry Fitzgerald) played the matchmaker. One of the first Abbey Theatre actors that the Film Company of Ireland recruited was J. M. Kerrigan. Kerrigan was well-known as a versatile, comic character actor in the Abbey. He was in charge of training young actors and in this capacity, he became a mentor for Arthur Shields when he joined the Abbey in 1914. Kerrigan directed the first films for the Film Company of Ireland in 1916 and 1917 as well as acting in them. He was also one of the first people to invest in the company and seems to have acted as a casting director for the company also. I had hoped to find out more information about J. M. Kerrigan from the Shields archive and it did not disappoint. The friendship between these two men began when Shields joined the Abbey in 1914 and lasted until Kerrigan’s death in 1964. Of particular help in this archive were letters from Shields and Kerrigan, clippings of newspaper interviews and drafts of a biography of Arthur Shields by his wife Laurie Shields. This archive gave a context to the acting methods of the Abbey Theatre at that time, methods which were greatly influenced by Kerrigan in his role as tutor. As none of the films by J. M. Kerrigan for the Film Company of Ireland are known to have survived, it was useful to examine accounts of the acting methods he used in theatre and to compare this to press reviews of the films which he directed.

J. M. Kerrigan. Shields Family Archive. T13/B/269. National University of Ireland, Galway

I then turned to the second archive I examined in this period, the archive of the Abbey Theatre itself, digitised and available to search in the Special Collections reading room. This is a large archive containing programmes, minutes of meetings, photography of actors, sets and plays, scripts, administrative and production files. This archive proved very useful in tracing the careers of J. M. Kerrigan and also Fred O’Donovan, the second major actor recruited from the Abbey. O’Donovan was a leading actor at the Abbey who also directed plays there and who subsequently went on to manage the theatre. By examining theatre programmes and minutes of meetings in this archive I was able to trace the movement of Kerrigan and O’Donovan between their stage acting and their film acting.

The archive and special collections of the National University of Ireland, Galway opens from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday with late opening until 9pm on Tuesdays during term time. The holdings of the archive can be examined at http://archivesearch.library.nuigalway.ie/. Booking is not required, although it is a good idea to get in touch with the archive in advance of your visit so that the materials you want will be available when you arrive. Document retrieval times are 10:00, 12:00 and 15:00. A registration form is required before accessing the archive and a Register must be signed on each entry into the Special Collections Reading Room. There are lockers for personal possessions, only pencils and laptops are permitted for notetaking. Permission must be requested before photographing or photocopying items. The staff are excellent, incredibly knowledgeable about the holdings and extremely pleasant and helpful. They do everything they can to make accessing the archives and consulting them pleasant and easy. As it is situated in the National University of Ireland, Galway, the archive is close to a number of restaurants and coffee shops on campus. The university itself is located about 15 minutes from the centre of Galway city where there is a variety of places to eat and sleep. In addition to the archives mentioned above, there are a number of other archives related to film and media history. These include the Huston Family Collection, an archive of scripts and production material and legal documents from the films of John Huston, mostly relating to his final film The Dead, the Éamon de Buitléar Collection, a collection of video, audio and manuscripts from the wildlife broadcaster and film-maker, the Diaries of Joseph Holloway (1895-1944), a regular attendee of theatre and cinema in Dublin, an invaluable source of information about the entertainment scene in Dublin during this period, and the Killanin Collection of books on film, literature and art from Michael Morris, 3rd Baron Killanin, film producer.

Galway is a warm, welcoming, compact and lively city with a good arts scene. Any trip to the archives at the National University of Ireland, Galway will be complemented by all that the city has to offer, not to mention the beauties of the Burren and Connemara close by. If you do make the journey, come over and say hello, I’ll be sitting close to one of the many windows knee-deep in all the archive has to offer on early Irish cinema and film.


Veronica Johnson teaches film studies at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Her research focuses on the Film Company of Ireland (1916-1920), early cinema and the cinematic unconscious. A recent attendee at the IAMHIST masterclass, her article “Dublin cinemas in 1916 and the growth of the middle-class audience” is forthcoming from the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

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