Working in and with German Archives on German-German Media History

Mandy Tröger, University of Munich (LMU)

27 March 2020


This blog post addresses international media scholars whose research focus is Germany and German-German media history. The term ‘German-German’ refers to the history of cross-border media relations between both German states, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the German Democratic Republic (GDR), until German unification in 1990. This research leads you to working in German archives. I want to share my experience of doing archival research for my doctoral thesis on the transition of the press in the GDR 1989/1990. The focus of my thesis lay on structural conditions and shifts; I was particularly interested in the political and economic influences of different interest groups from the FRG. I tried to access archival material showing the dealings of West German political and economic players, however this became a problem and I want to show you the different ways I used to get around it.

In the end, the findings of my dissertation were entirely based on primary and semi-primary sources; I used secondary literature only if primary sources left gaps in the overall narrative. I worked in eleven public and non-public (publishers, association etc.) archives, and seven private collections. In addition, I held seventeen non-biographical interviews. This blog post summarizes what I have learned from this process.

The “Politics of Memory” in Germany

In various ways, archives are places of institutionalized “politics of memory” (Brown and Davis-Brown, 1998). In Germany, the policy of national archives is such that all files classified as “GDR” are generally open to the public (even if they contain material from after 1990). The National Archive in Berlin (BArch) holds the majority of “GDR” records. Files of the same time period labeled “FRG” are closed for at least thirty years to protect individual rights and potentially sensitive information of economic and political interest groups. The consequences of this imbalance for historical research are serious and well-known among archivists and historians in Germany. They relate to a broader political agenda to the writing and construction of German-German history. They also partly explain the often one-sided and GDR-centric approaches in current German-German history writing.

The holdings of the Wendemuseum in Los Angeles

Three ways to access archives

However, the transition period in the GDR in 1989/1990 cannot be thought of without the political, economic and social relations, pressures and affiliations to the Federal Republic. Not having had access to these files, made it necessary to adopt different strategies.

First, the filing of “requests to shorten the term of file protection” (Antrag auf Schutzfristenverkürzung) to be granted access to classified federal documents in the National Archives in Koblenz and Berlin. The archive in Koblenz holds the files of the Federal Ministry of the Interior (Bundesministerium des Inneren, BMI) responsible for media related issues. Berlin holds, for instance, those of the trust agency Treuhandanstalt. These requests are generally complicated and can take years. I was granted access to files of the BMI at the National Archive in Koblenz; two requests for the trust agency Treuhandanstalt in Berlin have been in process for four years and were just recently granted.

Second, the issue of classified access made the archives of political foundations affiliated with individual parties (Stiftungsarchive) more important. These archives are in general dispute with the national archive over new acquisitions. At times, they hold files of politicians who worked on a federal level. For instance, the Archive of Liberalism of the Friedrich-Naumann Foundation for Freedom, affiliated with the liberal Free Democratic Party (Freie Demokratische Partei, FDP), holds the record of several members of the FDP’s federal media commission. The Green Memory Archive (Archiv Grünes Gedächtnis) of the Böll Foundation and the Green Party in Berlin holds the estate of Gerhard Bächer, former representative of the Green Party at the Media Control Council (Medienkontrollrat, MKR) founded in 1990 (see Becker-Schaum, 2009). The Archive of Democratic Socialism (Demokratischer Sozialismus, ADS) of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and the leftist party DIE LINKE in Berlin holds the estate of interim prime minister and later member of the German Bundestag, Hans Modrow (see ADS, n.d.). These archives have individually negotiated classified periods, and are generally easier to access.

The third way around the issue of access lay in the “GDR” files themselves. Since classification matters, not content, detailed communication between various East and West German interest groups can, if traced thoroughly, be found in these files. The part of my thesis telling the complicated story of early West German market interests in the building of a monopoly-like press distribution in East Germany was based on the files of the East German Ministry of Postal and Telecommunication (Ministerium für Post- und Fernmeldewesen, MPF). Labeled “GDR,” these files are open for research, even though several still-existing German interest groups might have good reasons for wanting to keep this communication off record.

Other relevant archives

Another important archive for GDR-media in 1990 was the ID-Archive at the International Institute for Social History (IISH/ID-Archive MKR) in Amsterdam. It holds an extensive collection (forty-two boxes) of the East German Media Control Council (MKR). This collection was transferred to the IISH/ID-Archive MKR in 1997. It contains minutes of the MKR-meetings, correspondence and documents regarding the reshaping of the media landscape (radio, television, newspapers and publishing houses) in the GDR in 1990, and an extensive collection of press clippings 1989-1990.

Also, the extensive library on media (policy) books in the corporate archive library of Axel Springer Publishers and the collection of the Wendemuseum in Los Angeles were valuable. Both allowed access to a variety of media-related sources.

The holdings of the Wendemuseum include the estate of the former General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), Erich Honeker, including his library

In particular the private (personal) collections took a central role in the original research. During the transition period, with fast institutional changes, it was common for those working at ministries, newspapers, publishers or in civic groups to take files home once the job was done and no archive was in charge of storing documents.

Expert interviews

Expert interviews further contributed greatly to my thesis. The communication with over twenty interview partners was, at times, extensive. The interviews were non-biographical, my questions related to a specific subject matter at hand, such as the dealings of a ministry, a newspaper or media policy institution. My goal was to fill gaps that could not have been filled based on archival material alone. This is important, especially for the transition period. During this fast-paced period, much of the communication happened verbally and/or was not documented systematically but noted by hand on pieces of paper. This was partly due to the grassroots like character of reform institutions (such as the Round Table or the MKR) and the often non-professional background of their members, as well as to institutional shifts more generally. Thus, archival holdings often contain numerous pieces of hand-written notes and papers that require context to make sense of them, and this context can often only be provided by those who were directly involved. This is an encouragement to step out of the archive and reach out to them.


Bibliography

ADS, n.d., ‘Bestände/Findbücher, Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung’, https://www.rosalux.de/stiftung/historisches-zentrum/archiv/bestaende-findbuecher/ (accessed: January 10, 2018).

Becker-Schaum, Christoph, 2009, ‘Der Archivbestand Gerhard Bächer und die Grüne Partei in der DDR’, Grünes Gedächtnis, pp. 71-76, http://www.boell.de/sites/default/files/uploads/2014/06/jb_2009_-_cbs_archivbestand_gerhard_baecher.pdf (accessed: May 25, 2016).

Brown, Richard Harvey, and Beth Davis-Brown, 1998, ‘The making of memory: the politics of archives, libraries and museums in the construction of national consciousness’, in History of the Human Sciences, 11/2, pp. 17-32.


Mandy Tröger, PhD, is an Assistant Professor at Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich, Germany. Dr Tröger received her doctorate from the Institute of Communications Research (ICR) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) in 2018. From 2015 until 2017, she was a PhD-Fellow of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Berlin, Germany. Parts of her dissertation, ‘On Unregulated Markets and the Freedom of Media: The Transition of the East German Press after 1989’, have been translated into German, and have been published in a German-language book, Pressefrühling und Profit, in 2019.


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… Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter

Amelia Seely, University of Exeter

28 January 2020


Bill Douglas had a unique scriptwriting style of poetic prose and a filmmaking style that has been compared to European Art filmmakers such as Robert Bresson and Luis Buñuel. Douglas’s influence is discernible in the works of filmmakers such as Lenny Abrahamson, Peter Mullan and Lynne Ramsay. His films – The Bill Douglas Trilogy (1972, 1973, 1978) and Comrades (1987) – have repeatedly been praised by critics and have regularly made appearances in top British Films lists. For example, in the Time Out poll of industry figures The Trilogy was number 27 in a poll of the best 100 British films of all time. In 2019, My Childhood was included in Little White Lies 100 list of Best British films. As well as being a filmmaker, writer and actor, Douglas was also an ardent and devoted collector of cinema ephemera. He and his friend Peter Jewell amassed one of the largest collections of moving image memorabilia in Europe. Over several decades the pair collected anything relating to film culture and history, and it is this which forms the heart of The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum’s collection.

The museum is both an accredited public museum and an academic research facility, the rich resources of which are used not only by researchers, but also in the classroom. The extraordinary collection is used for a diverse range of subjects, including Film Studies, English, History, Theology, Geography and even a number of Science disciplines. The collection holds over 80,000 items dating from the seventeenth century to the present day, covering all aspects of cinema, pre-cinema and the history of the moving image. In short, the collection is incredibly diverse and provides a totally unique and varied experience of the moving image.

My own research project is concerned with the British film industry in the 1970s and 1980s and looks closely at the production of Bill Douglas’s films as a case study of an artist filmmaker working during this time. Along with the large assembly of cinema memorabilia, the museum houses Douglas’s Working Papers which were donated by Peter Jewell 2014-2016. These are an incredibly rich and valuable collection of materials that also include production materials from Douglas’s colleagues such as Script Supervisor, Penny Eyles; Editor Mick Audsley and Production Designer, Michael Pickwoad.

Along with Bill Douglas’s working papers, the museum holds several other archival collections which have been generously donated by key figures in British cinema. These archives have a strong emphasis upon modern British independent filmmaking and include the collections of: Don Boyd, Bob (Robert) Dunbar, Ossie Morris, James Mackay, Gavrik Losey, Anthony Attard and Peter Cotes.

The museum is located in the Old Library building on the University of Exeter’s Streatham Campus. The museum shares resources with the University of Exeter’s Special Collections, including some staffing, as well as spaces such as the Reading Room. The online catalogue lists the items that are held in the museum and you can create a collection of items online that can be retrieved for consultation in the reading room when you visit. In some cases, there are images to accompany the description of the item, however, to see most items they will need to be consulted in the Reading Room.

The reading room is comfortable and well-lit and working there has often provided me with many great opportunities to meet visiting international researchers. There are lockers available just outside the reading room where you can store your personal belongings. Items allowed inside the reading room are laptops, phones, notebooks and pencils and although the archive does allow photographs for personal use, usual guidelines of up to 5% of published works are followed. Permission from donors are required to take pictures of archive material.

The museum has two Galleries which provide a great way to spend your lunchtime or a break from research. The Upper Gallery looks more at the experience of going to the cinema and includes all sorts of objects and ephemera such as beautiful issues of Picturegoer, a lovely display of Chaplin materials (Chaplin was a special favourite of Bill’s), to Harry Potter lunchboxes and an R2-D2 shaped soap. The Lower Gallery, on the ground floor, displays an incredible collection of early and pre-cinema machinery and objects, such as one of two hundred Lumiere Cinematographe machines ever made or the camera on which we believe Battle of the Somme (1916) was filmed. It is an absolute treasure trove and a delight to explore. The museum galleries are free and open to the public between 10am-5pm seven days a week (except between Christmas and New Year). The curatorial team are available Monday to Friday and research facilities are open 10am – 5pm by prior appointment, except for bank holidays. You are asked to give at least one working days’ notice of your visit.

There is ramp access to the museum, a lift between the two gallery spaces and a disabled parking space outside of the museum. A great resource is that if you are arriving by train into Exeter St David’s train station then you can catch the University’s free minibus service. The collection point is at the right-hand side of the exit as you leave the train station. There is no signage, but you will probably see a small queue forming just beyond the taxi rank. These buses run throughout the year except from bank holidays and closure days and there is an early morning and evening shuttle service.

I am very fortunate that I am based at the University of Exeter so I am able to visit this fantastic resource regularly as well as use materials from the collection for my own teaching. It is an invaluable resource for academic research as well as wonderful place to visit.

For further details about the shuttle service: https://www.exeter.ac.uk/campushelp/minibus/

To search the collection and to find out more about the museum: http://www.bdcmuseum.org.uk/

A map to find the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum:


Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Dr Phil Wickham, Mike Rickard, and Gemma Poulton for their assistance.


Amelia Seely is a postgraduate researcher at the University of Exeter. Her thesis – ‘Creativity and Constraint in the British Film Industry’ – draws on the work of the Scottish filmmaker Bill Douglas, and utilises his Working Papers held at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum. She is also the Founder of F | Screens – a monthly film event that celebrates women filmmakers and screenwriters. Follow her on Twitter @amelia_seely.


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… Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir

Ylenia Olibet, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada

15 November 2019


Sitting in one of the biggest writing rooms of Concordia University’s library in Montreal, where I spend most of my days doing research as a doctoral student — a Proustian trick of memory takes me back to the two months I spent in Paris this past spring. In a state of scholarly reverie, I think back, reflecting and re-elaborating on the archival research conducted in May and June at the Centre audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir (CASdB).

The CASdB is a feminist audio-visual archive, located in a small apartment of the elegant 28 Place Saint-Georges in Paris, right at the foot of Montmartre. 19th century buildings circle the quaint place, with a fountain laying at its centre. All of this, and the Theatre St-Georges, where Truffaut shot some of the sequences of Le Dernier Métro (The Last Metro, 1980), constitute the Parisian urban background in which the Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir currently finds itself. However, with the bobo[i] atmosphere of the square, the role and meaning of the feminist archive is ironically enhanced, as its vault of subversive material is tucked away in a historic building within a trending hotbed of Paris. The existence of this archive is known mostly to the people who work there and or to feminist locals and tourists, queering Place St. Georges by means of the center’s mission to challenge a canonical and dominant history, bringing forth a counter-history of the feminist struggle, encased by this archive. The collection of feminist and LGBTQ militant videos preserved at the Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir plays a crucial role in documenting and sustaining the cultural memory of the women’s movement and of feminist struggles, thus helping to institutionalize and integrate feminist historiography in France.

Figure 1: 28, Place St George, Paris. The Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir is located on the fourth floor of the mansion that was the residence of the famous French courtesan La Paiva in the XIX century.

The origins of the center are a part of the same media history as that of the 1970s, which saw women and feminist militants able to take on video technology in order to document the activities of the feminist movement and to create experimental work. This largely became possible given the flexibility of the new filmic medium. Instead of the heavier, outdated film equipment, the ease of video-taping allowed for these projects to emerge despite the lack of solid infrastructure available throughout the transition from film to video in the industry, especially for women (Jeanjean 2011). In 1982, Carole Roussopoulos, Delphine Seyrig, and Ioana Wieder, founders of the video collective Les Muses s’amusent in 1974, spawned the CASdB in collaboration with and thanks to the support of both grassroot feminist collectives as well as institutionalized feminist groups. The mission of the Centre was to archive, and support the production and dissemination of feminist and queer militant films and videos. In practice, since 1982, the centre has been active in promoting feminist works, as well as devising and instituting a distribution infrastructure built to circulate such work.[ii] Moreover, the center’s distribution and exhibition practices, which take place mainly through community-based screenings, expands the archival function of the CASdB beyond one solely of preservation. Similarly, CASdB organizes educational activities in schools and prisons, using the resources of its catalogue to inform of the necessity to deconstruct gender stereotypes in media. Finally, today, the center has established a partnership with Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the official French state archive, to digitize the videos of its collection. Through these operations of “remediation” and “recontextualization,” which Brunow finds characterizing contemporary archival practices across several European film archives (2017:98), CASdB creates a collective audiovisual memory, a testament to the feminist cultural and political militant experiences from the late 1960s onward.

The main collection of the archive is made up of feminist and LGBTQ videos made in France, including Sois belle et tais-toi ! (Delphine Seyrig, 1976) and more recent No Gravity (Silvia Casalino, 2011). The archive also stores books, distribution catalogues, programs of feminist film festivals and cultural events, journals on feminist film theory, like the Sorcieres and Les Cahiers du GRIF, film paratexts (such as posters and catalogues featuring said films), as well as dossiers on feminist filmmakers. Furthermore, the CASdB houses a special “metatextual” collection of documents that together reassemble the origin story and overall history of the center. This variety of collections, thus, provides a reservoir of primary sources that not only allow for historiographic research on the women’s movement in France, but also, more importantly, helps retrace the very establishment of feminist film culture. The audiovisual texts, indexed in their digital database, remain the primary focus of the centre, with digitization fast becoming the CASdB’s leading task. Through its collection of militant videos, contemporary documentaries and experimental videos, the centre plays a crucial role in substantiating the legacy of women’s and queer cinema. Archival research at the CASdB enables one to get to know the formal strategies involved in video-making within militant feminist media production as well as the ability to retrace the work of women in the film and video industry at large.

Seeing as my doctoral research tackles the genealogy of transnational feminist film culture, when conducting my field work at the CASdB, I was particularly interested in looking for the paper trail of exchanges, collaborations, and correspondences between different locally-situated feminist groups and artists that were active in fostering the engagement of women with media technologies and providing platforms for the circulation and exhibition of women’s films and videos. Thus, I divided my archival research between looking through boxes of feminist journals and film paratexts as well as watching videos catalogued in the database of the Centre. The militant practices documented and archived at the CASdB bring to light the complexity and the variety of experiences that characterize the women’s movement and practices around feminist film- and video-making.

The documentary videos I encountered demonstrate the establishment of feminist circuits of solidarity — both at the level of grassroots politics and of theoretical conversations, since the 1960s. For example, the documentary Manifestation à Hendaye-5 octobre (Anne-Marie Faure-Fraisse & Isabelle Fraisse, 1975) exposes the experience of a march organized by French feminists to support Spanish women protesting the Francoist dictatorship. The film lingers on the moments of discussions among the participants after the march, who reflect and make explicit the links between the feminist movements and antifascist struggles. On the other hand, footage from American Feminism (Beauvoir et les Québecoises) (Luce Guilbeault, year unknown) and Flo Kennedy, portrait d’une féministe americaine (Carole Roussoupoulos and Ioana Wider, 1982), captures the commitment of militants from various contexts to create feminist theory through conversations with other feminists from different contexts, foregrounding what Adrienne Rich would call “politics of location” (1989), instead of a universal feminist discourse.

During my residency at the Centre, I was given a desk and access to a hard disk that stores most of the digitized videos of the catalogue. As I was watching videos at the computer or browsing amidst the boxes containing posters, brochures, and catalogues — I was sharing the work space with Anna, the person in charge of distribution, Annette, the accountant, and the interns, Aliénor and Peggy. Nicole, the director of the center, would sometimes join us, too, if she was not giving educational workshops on gender stereotypes or travelling the film festival circuit. My conversations and exchanges with these archivists and administrators about feminism, film, theatre, and feminist queer spaces around Paris became as important as the archival objects and audiovisual texts that I was studying. In this respect, conducting research at a small archive like the CASdB allows for the researcher to work tête-à-tête with varying feminist media practitionners. In this way, it becomes clear that the archive is not monolithic, static, nor neutral, but an active assemblage — performatively brought about by the work of people (Ghani). Especially if considering the case of a feminist (counter-)archive, the collaborative methods of working as well as horizontal decision-making across the collective at the CASdB points at the affective labour involved and required in the functionality and maintenance of the archive. Immersing into archival research at CASdB gave me access to substantial historiographical media, but also functioned as a training session for developing feminist methodologies of labour, research, and collaborations.

Link to Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir website: http://www.centre-simone-de-beauvoir.com


Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Nicole Fernandez Ferrer, Anna Dzhangiryan, Annette Gourdon, Aliénor Grancher, and Peggy Préau for all their assistance and lovely conversations! Thanks in particular to Nicole and Anna for re-reading the piece.


[i] In the young and colloquial register of French, this term designates the French Parisians “hipsters”. The term is a portmanteau of the words bourgeois and bohemian.

[ii] A very accurate reconstruction of the history of the centre was written by Joelle Bolloch. Her Historique du centre, from which factual information in this paragraph is drawn on, is available online at: http://www.centre-simone-de-beauvoir.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/HistoriqueCASdB-Mai2017.pdf .


References:

Brunow, Dagmar. 2017. “Curating Access to Audiovisual Heritage: Cultural Memory and Diversity in European Film Archives.” Image & Narrative 18 (1): 97-110.

Ghani, Miriam. 2015. “What We Left Unfinished. The Artist and the Archive” in Dissonant Archives. Contemporary Visual Culture and Contested Narratives in the Middle East, ed. Anthony Downey. London: British Academic Press. 78-120.

Jeanjean, Stephanie. 2011. “Disobedient Video in France in the 1970s: Video production by women’s collectives”. Afterall: A Journal of Art, Context and Enquiry 27: 5-16.

Rich, Adrienne. 1989. “Notes toward a Politics of Location” in Blood, Bread, and Poetry. New York: Norton. 210-231.


Ylenia Olibet is a PhD candidate at Concordia University, Montreal, Canada. Her doctoral dissertation focuses on contemporary feminist film culture in Quebec from a transnational perspective, under the supervision of Professor Rosanna Maule. Her research is funded by the Fonds de Recherche du Québec – Societé et Culture. She is the co-editor in chief of Synoptique – An Online Journal of Film and Moving Images Studies. She is also affiliated to the Global Emergent Media Lab where she currently curates the Works-In-Progress workshops series.


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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