Call for Papers: A Film Scholarship without Films? Reimagining Israeli Cinema History through the Archive

Symposium, hosted at The Steve Tisch School of Film and Television, Tel Aviv University (Israel), 5-6 July 2022 (in-person, with online participation available)

In the introduction to the 2007 anthology Looking Past the Screen, Eric Smoodin points to a methodological lacuna within the conventional form of film historiography. This form – which “has at least since the mid-1950s been dominated by the study of the film itself, often organized around genre, nation, or authorship” – is not without its great benefits for historical knowledge; yet by emphasizing cinematic text over context, it has also missed out on important historical insight that may be garnered from closer scrutiny of nonfilmic archival holdings. In order to offer a corrective, Smoodin suggested that we imagine an alternative form of historiography, one which decenters the film in favor of other types of film-related material found in the archive.

Since pointing to this possibility of a “film scholarship without films,” Smoodin’s suggestion has materialized into exciting new avenues of research within various precincts of cinema studies. In the growing body of academic work on Israeli film history, however, the impact of such developments has rarely been felt. As early as 2001, historian Moshe Zimmerman lamented the tendency of Israeli cinema scholars to “analyze the content, narrative, ideological and aesthetic aspects of finished films,” while showing an “almost total disregard” of primary sources that may reveal “the conditions of technology, funding, production, distribution and mediation [of] filmmaking in Israel.” A few worthwhile exceptions notwithstanding, over the past two decades little has changed: Israeli film scholarship continues to leave nonfilmic archival materials unexplored, and by extension, its own historical paradigms largely unchallenged.

This symposium proposes that we reconceptualize Israeli film historiography in light of cinema studies’ recent focus on exploring the archive. As such, the event aims to highlight two interconnected sites of concern. The first of these has to do with accounting for the current state of archiving for Israeli film-related primary materials. To date, there is no central archive dedicated to these materials, with main archival activities concentrating on the films themselves. Accordingly, and in spite of contemporary digitization efforts, copious amounts of relevant content remain inaccessible, or worse – unarchived. This is particularly disconcerting in the case of disenfranchised constituencies such as the Palestinian people, whose film history stands under erasure due to the eradication of material traces, or their sequestering and dispersal within classified archives (as those of the Israeli Defense Forces). Yet even archives of more “sanctioned” objects and texts suffer from neglect due to an absence of rigorous archival attention or sufficient government and private funding. Thus, if we are to move Israeli cinema studies “in the direction of new sources of material and toward the possibility of film histories in which films themselves might have a modest place and none of the singular importance that marked the discipline for so long” (Smoodin 2014), then we must first map out what types of sources are actually out there in both public and private collections. On this foundation, we may begin planning for an adequate platform that networks these sources and therefore allows for their more effective induction into film history.

Concurrently, the quest for redefining the archive must be intertwined with a revision of how film scholarship may work with archives. Here, in our second site of concern, we take inspiration from examples of “writing film histories without films” outside of Israeli cinema studies. For many years now, such research has not only pointed to undervalued yet potentially worthwhile objects of film culture, from posters to press kits, fan books to trade journals, production memos to government files; they also made us aware of new and creative ways to use these sources of information, which a constant disciplinary focus on filmic textual analysis has unfortunately marginalized. Implementing these methods onto Israeli film-related archival sources could produce new histories, which are particularly sensitive to Israeli cinema’s place within a transnational landscape of moving image traditions; it could also redefine what skills are necessary for film scholarship to deepen its historical engagement – especially with respect to recent developments in Digital Humanities, which offer cutting-edge avenues of research and data visualization. These are ambitious goals, yet we hope our symposium will serve as a modest first step towards their realization.

With these emphases in mind, we invite scholars of various disciplines to submit paper proposals that fall under the following headings:

  • Completed or ongoing research projects on Israeli film history, whose findings testify to substantial and meaningful use of archival materials that are not the films themselves (such as reviews, memoirs and testimonials, production and censorship files, financial data, trade journals, advertisements, on-set photos, etc.).
  • Proposed research projects on Israeli film history, which can point to particular databases/collections/archives of nonfilmic film-related materials, and provide methodological insight into how these may be used.

Selected papers will be presented in-person at Tel Aviv University, July 5-6, 2022 (online participation also possible). In addition to scholarly panels, the symposium will also include commissioned workshops by archival specialists, who will introduce the range of different film-related materials under their supervision and discuss how these may contribute to future research.

Paper proposals should include an abstract (no more than 300 words) and full contact information (with institutional affiliation). Please submit them via email to symposium organizers Dr. Dan Chyutin ( AND Yael Mazor ( by March 15, 2022.

We look forward to your proposal!

Dan Chyutin and Yael Mazor

The Steve Tisch School of Film and Television, Tel Aviv University

Advisory committee: Prof. Dr. Raz Yosef (Tel Aviv University), Dr. Boaz Hagin (Tel Aviv University), Prof. Dr. Rachel S. Harris (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champagne), Dr. Ori Levin (Tel Aviv University), Dr. Hilla Lavie (Hebrew University)

Winner of the 2021 IAMHIST Challenge, this event is generously sponsored by the International Association of Media and History, with the specific aim of encouraging graduate students/early career scholars to develop their professional networks and acquire research-related skills.

New Book from Jerry Kuehl: Help Wanted!

Sebastian Cody, Open Media

26 October 2021

Jerome Kuehl – a dedicated member of IAMHIST Council for many years, known to all as Jerry – was my business partner, serving as a director of our production company Open Media from 1986 until he died in 2018. With the support of his estate I am now compiling a book of his writings, published and unpublished, for scholars of film and television as well as historians and a wider public. This is by way of an interim report on the project.

Jerry, probably best known to IAMHIST as a specialist in archive film, trained both as a historian and a philosopher. He was a serious scholar with the great gift of a light touch, both on and off the page. So very intelligent, steely and forensic, so acutely critical – yet also so funny. When necessary he could be severe and uncompromising, such as when confronting bogus people or bad ideas, or fighting for what he believed in (as when he campaigned against those at Channel 4 who chose to abandon our After Dark live discussion series). His writing – rooted in an almost supernatural ability to recall details of what he came to call visual history – has clarity and academic rigour, and is somehow also both amusing and elegantly brutal. His body of work stands as a remarkable testament to a lifetime’s dedication to the highest standards and deserves to be better known.

Jerry on the After Dark set before a show with host Gaia Servadio

Originally from the US Jerry studied at the Sorbonne and then came to Oxford as a post-graduate at St Anthony’s, where he met many of his subsequent friends. Jeremy Isaacs was an undergraduate at the time, as were Bernard Donoghue and Melvyn Bragg (Jerry appears in one of Melvyn’s novels). Jerry studied under Sir Isaiah Berlin and travelled around Europe with John Searle.

After teaching history at both Oxford and Stanford Jerry joined the BBC as a historical adviser, to help launch BBC2 with its landmark documentary series The Great War. A forty-year television career followed. He made significant contributions to programmes – primarily about history and politics – in Britain and the US, from Jeremy Isaacs’ The World At War (still, I believe, the most commercially successful non-fiction series of all time); to Destination America; Auschwitz: The Final Solution;  Vietnam: A Television History; The Spanish Civil War; Today’s History; The French Revolution; and Cold War.

His work set new standards for accuracy and authenticity in the use of film archives (indeed the Financial Times gave him the title “Officer Commanding Archive Integrity”). He often fought with historians, believing the academy should accord visual material the same value as other historical documents, while at the same time challenging his own colleagues when sloppy in their use of archive footage and thus, as he understood, perpetuating errors into the future. He wanted to prevent nonsense from becoming orthodoxy. For this he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by FOCAL International, the Federation of Commercial Audiovisual Libraries, in 2004.

In parallel Jerry maintained a steady publication output. The earliest pieces I have found are from the 1950s (they are about what was then East Germany); the last was published posthumously in the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. He was a frequent contributor to historical and media publications, including Sight and Sound; Cineaste; the Journal of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts; Broadcast; Spectrum; Focal International (which became Archive Zones); Film and Television Technician; Viewfinder; The Consultant, the Journal of the Association of Moving Image Archivists, as well as the TLS; The Journal of War and Culture Studies; The International History Review and International Affairs.

He lectured all over the world, including at the Royal United Services Institute; the Imperial War Museum; the National Film and Television Archives; the Royal Military College, Sandhurst; the National Archives, Washington D.C; and in France, Canada and at several US universities as well the universities of LSE, Warwick, Manchester and Oxford in the UK.

Jerry and the Office Cat © Vincent Yorke

In the 21st century he became internationally known for fathering The Office Cat, a widely available column (including for a time in the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television and later the IAMHIST Blog) that pointed out the abuse of archive film by television producers, as seen by a proud but incompetent film researcher. As Jerry explained, unlike human film researchers the Office Cat can find any film whether or not it exists. Thus the Cat could – and did – find ‘film’ of Adolf Hitler marrying Eva Braun in the Führerbunker; of the Wright Brothers’ first flight in 1903; and of the iceberg which sank the Titanic. Producers and Directors demand such images, and film researchers, often with a heavy heart, try to provide them.”


Juliet Gardiner summed up his life’s work in History Today:

“Jerry stuck firmly to his creed of popularisation without vulgarisation. His mission (was) to make scholarly history accessible”.

The proposed volume of his selected writings – drawn from 60 years of occasional articles, book chapters, reviews, The Office Cat and so on – falls into three parts. The first is a short book (unfinished but self-contained and most interesting) called Looking At History, to be published for the first time. Next comes a selection of his previously anthologised work that is currently out of print (for example his devastating attack on docudrama from the 1990s called, unambiguously, Lies About Real People). Finally, a significant section of important pieces which appeared once in obscure places but, though hard to access at present, retain their salience.

The collection will range across (at least) his 1960s fight with academic historians about visual history; his 1970s assault on docudrama; his significant contributions to the historiography of The World At War; his fight for nitrate film; and his Torquemada-like pursuit of scholarly precision in the use of archive film, not forgetting The Office Cat and Kuehl’s Reels.

Over the years his work has grown more, rather than less, relevant. My hope is that this book will appeal, not only to the general enthusiast for film and history, but to scholars, to those who write curriculum, and to students, specifically in three publishing markets: the niche areas of archival studies, film preservation etc; the larger areas of film/tv/documentary/media/production studies; and finally, those historians who work on the 20th century and seek to take visual history seriously.

Although I have already collected a number of pieces – as well as seven chapters of his book manuscript – there may well be more waiting to be found. If any IAMHIST members have some gems of Jerry’s writing tucked away, please get in touch as soon as possible. I am also looking for collaborators to help prepare this volume for publication.

Sebastian Cody is a senior media executive. A pioneer independent producer in the formative years of Channel 4 he has been responsible for many British network television programmes including the celebrated discussion series After Dark. In 2010 his company Open Media launched an online social history of Britain, InView, alongside the BFI, BBC, The National Archive and others. Recently he has been Associate Producer of documentaries for HBO and the BBC. He has written for many newspapers including The Times and The Guardian and acts as a consultant for companies and NGO’s, such as Universal Music/Decca and IIASA, the international science research organisation where he advised four successive Directors General over the last fifteen years.

From 2001 to 2019 Sebastian Cody was a Visitor at the University of Oxford, variously at the Environmental Change Institute at the Oxford University Centre for the Environment and the Rothermere American Institute. He was elected a Senior Associate Member of St Antony’s College Oxford in 2004. In 2019 he became Visiting Researcher at the Communication and Media Research Institute at the University of Westminster where his research interests include public service media and transnational cultural diplomacy.

Please contact Sebastian in relation to this project at:

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.

IAMHIST Online: Make Film History/Reusing the Archive in Filmmaking with Maurice Fitzpatrick

Ciara Chambers will introduce the Make Film History project, followed by a discussion with academic and filmmaker Maurice Fitzpatrick on engaging with the archive when writing and screening history and politics.


Wednesday 17th November 2021

3pm GMT/4pm CET

Online via Zoom

Registration link: IAMHIST ONLINE Make Film History: Reusing the Archive in Film Tickets, Wed, Nov 17, 2021 at 3:00 PM | Eventbrite

Maurice Fitzpatrick is a lecturer, film director and author. He was a recipient of the Ministry of Education of Japan scholarship 2004-2007 and a lecturer at Keio University, Tokyo, 2007-11, at Bonn University 2011-2012 and at the University of Cologne 2012-2016. He has made two documentary films for the BBC: The Boys of St. Columb’s (also an RTÉ production) and Translations Revisited. In 2017, he wrote, directed and produced a documentary feature film, John Hume in America, on the political life of Nobel Peace Prize laureate John Hume, which has screened in over 30 countries. He is also the author of a book entitled John Hume in America: From Derry to DC (University of Notre Dame Press, 2019) which has been welcomed by Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi as ‘a wonderful reminder of the strength in diplomacy and the close relationship between the United States and Northern Ireland’ and by The Sunday Business Post as one of the ‘20 Vital Books…about the Northern conflict’.  In the US, it was named an Outstanding Title in 2020 by Choice, a division of the American Library Association. He was a Poynter Fellow at Yale University in 2019, the 2020 Heimbold Chair of Irish Studies at Villanova University and in autumn 2021 he will be a visiting fellow at the University of Notre Dame.

Make Film History is developing a new, sustainable model for the creative reuse of archive material for non-commercial use by young filmmakers, supported by project partners, the British Film Institute (BFI), BBC Archive Editorial, the Irish Film Institute and Northern Ireland Screen.

This project was funded by UKRI-AHRC and the Irish Research Council under the ‘UK-Ireland Collaboration in the Digital Humanities Networking Call’ (grant numbers AH/V002066/1 and IRC/V002066/1).

Letter from Northern Ireland (1955) Courtesy of NI Screen and National Museums NI.


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