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 (email@example.com) AND Yael Mazor (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.
This blog post is a reflection on the process of archival research I conducted for my book Stanley Kubrick Produces. Specifically, I want to focus on the idea of archival serendipity: how unexpected results and discoveries in the archive can reframe scholarly understanding of historical objects, figures, and events and even debunk prevailing myths. In the course of researching and writing Stanley Kubrick Produces, I wanted to uncover the truth behind a film that Stanley Kubrick was reputed to have been involved with in some capacity: World Assembly of Youth. But in tracking down archival evidence, I did not find what I was looking for, but instead came across an altogether different story. What I discovered was evidence of Kubrick’s own mythmaking and audio-visual material of a film that might have otherwise been forgotten.
What we thought we knew
I begin my story not in an archive, but at a conference. A room full of Kubrick experts, fans, and researchers. It is July 2019. I am part of an international workshop at the University of Leiden titled Life and Legacy, Studying the Films of Stanley Kubrick. Over fifty delegates from across the world are in attendance. And for five days, we debate, deconstruct, and overanalyse the films associated with Stanley Kubrick. It is an invigorating space, one in which we openly and freely debate the filmmaker’s career, wider production contexts, and of course the inevitable ‘meaning’ of the films. But one conversation stands out: on the third day we discuss ‘the unknown’ Kubrick. We deliberate over what we know, sketching it out on laptops, a blackboard, pieces of paper, anything we can find. Every nook and cranny of Kubrick’s life and career is raked over to find the holes in what we think we know.
The conversation turns to the 1950s and mention is made of a film, World Assembly of Youth. No one asks what the film is about. No one asks what Kubrick did on the film. It is taken as a given that he must have, in some way, been involved in the production of this film. No one has even seen the film. A throwaway remark is made about it being some kind of ‘CIA’ sponsored effort after a quick Google search. And then, after much scholarly digression, we move on, with no more made of the conversation.
Throughout the morning’s deliberations, I had largely remained silent. This briefest of mentions of World Assembly of Youth, what amounted to a few minutes at most, resonated for I was deeply involved in writing about the film and undertaking archival research at that point in time. I was in the middle of email discussions for material to be sent across to me that contained, I hoped, a copy of the film. It was in the process of being digitised. And I was excited because, on reflection, I realise that all of us deep down perhaps believed, even hoped, that World Assembly of Youth was some kind of ‘lost’ Kubrick film. It is why I remained silent. I was nervous at the prospect of what I might find in the coming days.
So just why was it that a room full of some of the world’s foremost Kubrick experts included World Assembly of Youth in discussions of Kubrick’s career? What made us so sure that the film was a Kubrick film? It goes back to a biography written by John Baxter in 1997, Stanley Kubrick: A Biography, in which it was claimed that Kubrick had been involved in the production of the film in 1952. Baxter describes the film as being, ‘an early attempt by the US State Department, which sponsored the film, to mobilise college-aged kids to carry out socially worthy projects, an initiative that was to have its pay-off in John Kennedy’s Peace Corps’.[i] Baxter’s discussion of the film is limited, with no reference of his source or of what Kubrick’s role was on the film.
Baxter’s claims seemed to be further substantiated, however, by contemporary reports in the press. A. H. Weiler published a column in the New York Times in June 1952 that summarised Kubrick’s filmmaking activities. I have highlighted in bold the relevant section concerning World Assembly of Youth:
PRODUCER: Proof that a producer-director need not be a man weighed down by years is here in the person of Stanley Kubrick, a New Yorker who is 23 and is currently negotiating for the release of “Shape of Fear,” his first feature and the fourth film he has turned out thus far. The picture, a study of four soldiers trapped behind enemy lines, developed from a story by Howard Sackler, a 22-year old friend of Kubrick’s, was made on location in California’s San Gabriel Mountains with Frank Silvera, Steve Coit, Ken Harp, Irwin Mazursky and Virginia Leith, professionals whose names obviously have not been in lights. The youthful producer-director, whose credits already include “The Day of the Fight” and “Flying Padre”, short subjects released by R.K.O., and a short on World Assembly of Youth, made for the State Department, has “a few stories he would like to film.” But his approach to the future seems to be both realistic and wise. “There’s no point in talking about my next picture,” he said, “until we see how ‘Shape of Fear’ does both critically and financially.”[ii]
Weiler’s column only mentions Kubrick’s work on World Assembly of Youth in passing. But importantly, the column seemed to validate what John Baxter had claimed. That Kubrick had worked on another short film, one that was not officially included in his filmography. What this limited evidence seemed to indicate was that there was another Kubrick film out there, somewhere, waiting to be found.
What we didn’t know
With Stanley Kubrick Produces, my aim was to situate Kubrick’s career within wider industrial and production contexts and to do so through archival research. This meant undertaking extensive research at archives around the world: the Stanley Kubrick Archive at the University of the Arts London, the Margaret Herrick Library in Los Angeles, the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research in Madison, Wisconsin, the University of Liverpool, the British Library, the British Film Institute, Lambeth Palace Archives, The National Archives, and others besides. Yet, none of these archives contained any information whatsoever about World Assembly of Youth. The only evidence I could find was the fleeting mention by Baxter and a news report in the New York Times. My determination to uncover the secrets of World Assembly of Youth, perhaps to even find a copy of the film, looked to be hopeless.
That is until by sheer chance I noticed details of the film in an archival catalogue at the American Heritage Center (AHC), University of Wyoming. A brief aside to quickly tell you about this archive – after all, this is IAMHIST and archives are what we live for. The AHC is one of the largest non-government archives in the world, with over 90,000 cubic feet of archival material. If you want to find something about American history, chances are you will find something, however small, in the AHC. Its film and media archival collection is vast, with the AHC priding itself on being one of only a few institutions that took seriously the work of preserving the heritage and history of the film and media industries in the 1960s and 1970s.[iii]
I had been consulting the AHC because it houses the Richard De Rochemont papers. De Rochemont was an American film producer, most noted for his work on the March of Time newsreel series. He was also prominent in the early career of Kubrick; Kubrick had initially pitched his first short film, Day of the Fight (1951), for inclusion in De Rochemont’s March of Time series. De Rochemont rejected the film, but took a keen interest in Kubrick’s career, becoming something of a mentor and giving him opportunities to work on television series such as Mr. Lincoln (1952-53).
The Richard De Rochemont Papers are expansive, containing 216 boxes. As the archive catalogue states, the papers are made up of, ‘manuscripts and articles, scripts, research files, and other documents relating to projects produced by and associated with De Rochemont.’[iv] There is material in relation to March of Time and to De Rochemont’s production companies, such as Vavin. The papers also include a large amount of audio-visual material.
I had consulted the Richard De Rochemont papers early on in my research, but I was very specific, consulting personal papers and files relating to the project Mr. Lincoln. Then in spring 2019, I returned to the Richard De Rochemont papers archival catalogue to simply browse. Catalogue browsing is what I do at times, for no purpose other than to familiarise myself with a collection. It’s part of a wider process of archival serendipity that I now embed within my approach to archives generally. Rather than setting out with a hypothesis that I need to prove, I follow the archival evidence down unexpected paths and foreground its material realities: the absences, gaps, coincidences, and unexplained items. In perhaps one of the most poetic accounts of archival serendipity, historian Michael Hoeflich describes it as follows:
We [scholars] set out upon uncharted paths in libraries and archives, never really knowing what we will find. Scientists construct vast and complex experiments in the hopes of proving an hypothesis. But too many brilliant hunches have turned out to be nothing more than signposts on the road to dead ends. It is the lucky scholar or scientist who, setting out with a goal in mind for his or her research, achieves that goal quickly and directly. […] But serendipity and its relations do not come uninvited to the scholar’s table. Rather, serendipity visits those scholars and researchers who set out with open minds and the flexibility of plan that allows them both to recognize the fortuitous discovery and to pursue it to its logical end.[v]
Hoeflich insists upon the need for mental flexibility in the use of archives. By this, he means the need for archival researchers to prepare for unexpected paths that take them away from their planned research. It does not mean that the planned research must be given up, but it does mean being ready to take detailed notes of new findings and ideas that are of, ‘potential worth.’[vi] The process of ‘aimless’ catalogue browsing can aid in this endeavour. It certainly has done for me over the years. And it certainly did in the case of World Assembly of Youth.
As I browsed the catalogue of the Richard De Rochemont papers, scrolling through the hundreds of rows of metadata, I happened to notice the following entry buried within the series ‘Projects 1935-1982’:
World Assembly of Youth scripts, 1952 Box 163
I had not expected to see such an item in the catalogue. I was excited and, spurred on by this serendipitous encounter, I began to search more precisely. There was another entry, buried within ‘Sub-series 4: Information and Other, 1952-1972, undated’:
“World Assembly of Youth” (b&w), undated Box 9
And there was one final entry, with the series ‘Photographs, circa 1916-1969, undated’, aligned with material from the March of Time collection:
March of Time – World Assembly of Youth, Ithaca, New York, 1951 Box 200
After facing a virtual research dead end, I was suddenly confronted with three separate boxes of potential archival evidence. More than that, one of the items was possibly the World Assembly of Youth film itself. I immediately began the process of contacting archival staff to arrange for duplications of the material. I also requested further information about the archival film footage. After several weeks of emails, one of the archival staff had managed to locate the film and view it. He emailed me his findings:
I had a chance to go into the cold vault to examine the motion-picture film that you requested more information for. It is black and white. It does have a soundtrack (I don’t know if there is actual audio, but there is a track for audio.) It appears to be about 30 minutes in length. The film is titled World Assembly of Youth. The next screen is: A Report on the First Triennial General Assembly of WAY, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. The third credit screen is: Filmed in Conjunction with Young Adult Council U.S. Assembly of World Assembly of Youth. The next screen is: Produced by News of the Day. Then the film starts. The first scene appears to be of an airport tower.[vii]
Perhaps not the most enthralling of descriptions, but still this email furthered my excitement. After further discussions, it was agreed that the film could be digitised and sent across to me. I received that file, along with digital duplications of the other archival material, as I was leaving the University of Leiden Kubrick conference in summer 2019.
The material I received consisted of fifty-three black and white production photographs, a fifty-three-page script, a thirteen-page spot sheet document, and a digitised copy of the film. I have embedded the latter into this blog post for anyone that is curious to watch it.
Figure 1: The opening title of World Assembly of Youth
Now, I will be honest, I genuinely thought in the days leading up to receiving these documents that I had located a ‘lost’ Kubrick film. As such, the first thing I did upon receiving the documents was to watch the film. And as I watched the film, I became increasingly bored, baffled, and disappointed: what on earth was this film, I thought to myself. Obviously, it was a thirty-three-minute-long informational documentary about the first international meeting of the organisation the World Assembly of Youth at Cornell University in 1951. But a lost Kubrick film? As the film came to an end, I gradually started to suspect that everything I thought I knew about the film was in fact wrong. Kubrick’s name was absent from the credits. If he had been involved in the production, surely his name would have been included?
I hoped the surrounding archival documentation would provide a clue as to Kubrick’s involvement in the production. The script contained several pages of credits, but once again Kubrick’s name was absent. He had not produced the film. He had not directed it. He had not operated the camera. Nor the sound. Nor was he present in any of the production stills, some of which were images of the crew.
My disappointment turned to deflation as it dawned on me: World Assembly of Youth was not a ‘lost’ Kubrick film after all.
What we now know and what it tells us
In the days after first viewing World Assembly of Youth, I slowly came to the realisation that my serendipitous encounter had revealed an altogether different history to the one I had expected, and in fact arguably told me much, much more than I had intended to find out.
The fact that Kubrick was not involved in the production in any obvious way did not mean it did not reveal something about the history of Stanley Kubrick. It may well be that Kubrick was involved in the production, say as a stills photographer: the name of the photographer is not detailed in the available archival evidence and we can therefore speculate that it is Kubrick taking the pictures. He was, after all, a photographer by-trade up to 1950, working for Look magazine. Of course, it might also have been someone else that had taken the photographs.
Could Kubrick have been involved in an alternative, as of yet undiscovered production about the World Assembly of Youth? What I have not discussed in this blog post is the history of the organisation, of its connections to the U.S. State Department, or the fact that there were other productions, including radio productions, produced during this time period. Was Kubrick involved in those? I suspect it is highly unlikely. This film is located in the Richard De Rochemont papers with dates that correspond to a period in which Kubrick was closely affiliated to De Rochemont. If Kubrick was involved in any film about the World Assembly of Youth, the chances are that it was this one.
Perhaps more interesting is the way Kubrick clearly used the film, whatever his tangential connection, as a means of self-promotion. If we return to the column in the New York Times quoted above, the likelihood is that Kubrick had supplied the journalist, A. H. Weiler, with written copy. This is something he had done before when promoting Day of the Fight and his planned production of Fear and Desire. Kubrick also talked up his role in the production of Mr. Lincoln to the press. He was not averse to self-promotion or brand management, but made it a central tenet of his producing personality from the very beginning of his career.
Kubrick was building a myth about his prowess and abilities in order to advance his career at a time when he still had little prospects of making it in the film industry. There was no reason for A. H. Weiler to report on Kubrick’s activities other than if Kubrick had supplied the journalist with the story in the first place. As such, the sources that have been used to associate the World Assembly of Youth with Kubrick are unreliable.
The Kubrick myth, however, one propagated by Kubrick himself, still dominates. Yet, by conducting detailed, empirical research, it is possible to begin deconstructing this myth to get at wider truths of who Kubrick was and how his career developed. Of course, sometimes fortuity in the archives is what is needed to be able to break down some of these myths.
There is one final point I want to make about this serendipitous archival encounter. My attempts to discover a ‘lost’ Kubrick film failed, but in the process I succeeded in finding out something else: a forgotten history, if you will, of a film that might have otherwise remained sealed in the AHC Cold Storage. There is a much more detailed story to tell about World Assembly of Youth, particularly its connections with the CIA: that is for another blog post.
There is perhaps also a wider issue here of the failed, or ‘bad’ film histories, that prevail within our profession. By this I mean that archives are filled with such overlooked and forgotten artefacts like World Assembly of Youth, a whole hidden history of films that are not digitised and not accessible to film historians. One of the reasons this is the case is because of the way in which cultural value is ascribed to archives and archival objects. Typically, it is those films and filmmakers that are ‘established’ and the most popular that receive overinvested scholarly investigation. The result of this, however, is the neglect of other histories.
I for one was too focused on Stanley Kubrick and on the film canon, in the process overlooking and even overshadowing forgotten or banal archival objects if they did not serve the wider history of Kubrick’s career. What archival serendipity led to, however, was a realisation that the archive can deconstruct Kubrick and bring to light other histories of film and media that are just as important, even when it is a film as seemingly banal as World Assembly of Youth. And that has been for me the key lesson I have learned in archival research over the past two to three years: that as an archival researcher you have to be prepared to focus on the material realities of the archive, not on the archive as a means of reinforcing existing myths. It is a point more eloquently put by Nancy Lusignan Schultz:
Serendipity, however, requires that the mind be prepared in two special ways: with the flexibility to set aside the object of a quest, and with the wisdom to recognize that a collateral discovery may be equally important.[viii]
So, that is my story, how I failed to discover a lost Stanley Kubrick film, but instead found something altogether unexpected but just as important. And now that I have talked about this film for several thousand words, you might just find yourself wanting to watch World Assembly of Youth or even to read more about. The film is embedded as a YouTube video below, uploaded with the permission of the American Heritage Center. You can read more about the history of the film in Stanley Kubrick Produces, while David Maunders provides a comprehensive of the World Assembly of Youth organisation in his article, ‘Controlling Youth for Democracy: The United States Youth Council and the World Assembly of Youth’ (2003).[ix]
World Assembly of Youth, Richard de Rochemont Papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Produced by News of the Day for World Assembly of Youth, Richard De Rochemont.
Directors: D. Corbit Curtis and Richard Millett
Producer: Richard De Rochemont
Camera: George Stoetzel and George Hinners, with Rody Green, Leo Rossi, and T. Rickman
Sound: Anthony Girolami, with Fred Fenton and Abe Landau
Chief Electrician: Alfred Shaw Editors: Lawrence Sherman, Gene Milford, and Robert Collison
Assistant Directors: H. O. Keith Ayling, Robert Daly, Sam Locke
The film received the approval of the Department of State on February 15, 1952.
[ix] David Maunders, ‘Controlling Youth for Democracy: The United States Youth Council and the World Assembly of Youth.’ Commonwealth Youth and Development, vol. 1, no. 2 (2003), 22-51.
James Fenwick is a senior lecturer in media and communications at Sheffield Hallam University. He is the author of Stanley Kubrick Produces (2020), editor of Understanding Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (2018), and co-editor of Shadow Cinema: The Historical and Production Contexts of Unmade Films (2020). He has written numerous journal articles and book chapters about the life and work of Stanley Kubrick that aim to deconstruct the auteur myth that surrounds him by focusing on the material, social and cultural conditions of production of those films with which he is associated. This includes the forthcoming article, ‘Problems with Kubrick: Reframing Stanley Kubrick Through Archival Research’ (2021) for the New Review of Film and Television Studies.
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.
Dr Natalie Hayton, Assistant Archivist, Special Collections, De Montfort University, Leicester
1 October 2019
This piece reflects on a session delivered by myself and fellow archivist Katharine Short as part of a Postgraduate Archives Open Day event. Organised by Dr Ellen Wright of the Cinema and Television History Institute (CATHI) at DMU, the day was geared towards encouraging archival research and debate in relation to film archives. The title of our session neatly reflects some of the issues raised in the session, while also acknowledging our most significant collection relating to television history: the Papers of screenwriter Andrew Davies, writer of the famous 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
Figure 1: Special Collections Manager, Katharine, organising the papers of the Andrew Davies archival collection in the Special Collections reader room at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. Still taken from the BBC 4 documentary Andrew Davies: Rewriting the Classics. Last aired on January 28th 2019.
The session was developed with the intention of providing a behind-the-scenes approach to discussing some of the debates within the archive sector around access to archives, their use and how they reflect wider society. We chose five problematic items from our collections and asked attendees to write brief catalogue entries for them, encouraging them to consider issues of physical access, ownership and authorship, and cataloguing language. This blog post will highlight the issues raised in relation to access while touching on representation and copyright. The democratisation process within archives is very important to us at DMU, and through our work with the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre, the Equality and Diversity Team and regularly reading up on sector guidance and finding out what other repositories are doing, such as the National Archives, Archives For Everyone policy framework and Jass Thethi’s work on ‘creating a space for marginalised voices in the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) sector’, we hope to improve our catalogues and collections. [i],[ii]&[iii] Having said that, we are aware that as archivists, we are still learning how to best catalogue, describe and make accessible problematic records.
Access all Archival Areas?
Providing access to archives is a fundamental part of our job as archivists that is found in sector standards, such as the Principles of Access to Archives produced by the International Council on Archives. Significantly, this creates a tension at the heart of the archivist role: our two core duties are to protect originals from deterioration and to provide access to them, but we believe these should not be viewed as antithetical. Extensive use of an archival item will cause damage, but at the same time it is a human right, not a privilege, to be able to view the information contained within records held in public repositories, even if the original item cannot be produced.
However, as much as we may want to assist our readers, there will always be times when we are bound by legislation, donor restrictions, technical issues or concerns surrounding security and preservation. While we are committed to seeking creative solutions, there will always be instances where access is denied, or at least postponed.
Assessing the Archives/Artefacts: Content Warning
The following examples are the items we used for the session, some of which brought forth some strong opinions regarding privileging access to collections unintentionally and whether promoting access is to the benefit of repositories and readers in all circumstances. Before moving into an examination of the objects, I want to offer a content warning as one of the items discussed is a collection of Robertson’s Preserve Manufacturers Ltd. promotional figurines known as “Golliwogs”, offensive caricatures of African American people inspired by nineteenth-century minstrelsy.
Figure 2: Redacted letter from D/061 Papers of Andrew Davies held at Special Collections De Montfort University, UK.
Just from looking at this image, it is fairly obvious that we have some access issues here! Although Davies has given permission for researchers to access any of his letters in the collection, what he cannot give permission for is access to material produced by third parties (the letters he received from others) or that which references living individuals who may have no idea that items relating to them are held in a public archive. In instances such as these it is an archivist’s responsibility and ethical duty to comply with privacy legislation such as Data Protection by either redacting information or closing the item until such a time as those mentioned are deceased. While this can be frustrating for readers and archivists alike, ultimately the protection of 3rd parties (as well as being legally binding) is not something we would want to compromise. It was in relation to this item that points were raised regarding whether it is worth promoting the existence of these letters at all, as such practice can lead to unwanted media attention and once the existence of letters of someone famous becomes more widely known, disappointment will inevitably follow when it is discovered they are off limits (for now, at least). Closures can be made at collection, series or item level and decisions are typically made on a case by case basis. At DMU we have decided to close and redact where necessary while still listing the correspondence in the catalogue in a way that favours promoting the collection as a whole as well as ensuring we are protecting individuals at item level.
Figure 3: Picture Show Annual, 1955, held at Special Collections De Montfort University, UK.
We specifically wanted the discussion of these books to focus on whether we should use our catalogues to highlight the white patriarchal heteronormative framework inherent to this series (seen in images featuring actors wearing black/brown and yellow face, the complete lack/under-representation of actors of colour and the gender essentialism apparent even on the front cover this 1955 edition in its depiction of complicit sexual violence). However, there are also some important physical access issues surrounding these magazines.
Figure 4: Picture Show Annual, 1955.
Figure 5: Picture Show Annual, 1955.
Like all repositories, we always offer our researchers some friendly instructions when handling items to ensure they are cared for properly when being used and to encourage readers to feel more confident about handling archives. For example, using support cushions, page weights and turning pages carefully using only the corners is not knowledge we take for granted. Unfortunately, like the Picture Annuals, some items may already be damaged, either by age or design. As you can see from the first image, some of the pages have come loose and there is a risk here that pages could become muddled with pages from other books, or taken out of order. As there is no justification for the cost of digitising we do allow access to the originals but ask readers to be mindful of the loose pages and the likelihood that others may also come out if proper care is not taken. The second image highlights a page where a feature has intentionally been removed. This obviously has implications for those readers who may have been looking for a specific piece but it does perhaps offer insight on how the books were used by previous owners e.g. cutting out images for scrap books (Special Collections has two such film star scrap book collections: Film Star Scrap Books, 1930s and Film Star Scrap Books 1925-1945).
Exhibit 3: Interview with Benazir Bhutto (Politician and Prime Minister of Pakistan 1988-2007) from the Anita Anand (Zee TV Collection).[iv]
Figure 6: Betacam tape from the Anita Anand Collection (Zee TV Collection) held at Special Collections, De Montfort University, Leicester UK.
Again, the access issue here will be obvious for those who have wanted to view materials that require obsolete technology. While many organisations will have a way of migrating recordings from VHS (video) to a digital format, unfortunately, transferring the contents of Betamax and Betacam tapes is not so readily available. The newly acquired Anita Anand (Zee TV) Collection comprises over 60 linear metres of Betacam tapes donated by the journalist and radio and television presenter. While we are doing our best to organise and begin cataloguing using the labelling on the tapes, at the moment we have no way of determining what is actually on them and it is proving difficult for us to find the resources needed to provide full access to the tapes (budget, time, storage space, expertise). In the short-term we are attempting to source a Betacam player but we are also discussing options with specialists at Media Archive of Central England and intend to put together a funding bid to get this amazing collection of Asian TV digitised and accessible to all.
Another recently acquired collection includes these figurines which were created by the UK’s Robertson’s Preserve Manufacturer Ltd. in the 1960s and 70s. The “Golliwog” was the mascot for the company until 2001 and these figures were redeemed for tokens collected from the labels found on purchased products.
Figure 7: 6 musician figurines from the RF Robertson’s “Golliwog” Figurines Collection held at Special Collections De Montfort University, UK.
While still viewed as collectibles and defended by many as ‘innocent and lovable’ characters rather than examples of systemic racism, this is unquestionably a naïve position. The original literary Golliwogg, found in Florence Kate Upton’s children’s books, was inspired by minstrelsy entertainment, which began in the US around the 1830s: minstrelsy typically involved troupes wearing blackface to perform songs and sketches that reinforced white supremacy and dehumanised and degraded African American people. While our discussion for this collection focused on considering the best way of conveying this information in a catalogue in terms of language and description, questions surrounding access were also plentiful. The donor of this collection specifically requested they be used as a tool for highlighting the pervasive and insidious nature of racism in cultural products, so does that mean we should restrict access to collectors or enthusiasts who only wish to view them out of curiosity?
Another issue discussed was that while we are dealing with two very different formats when working with the Anita Anand Collection and the figurines (making them incomparable in some ways), the fact that examples of racist oppression are more readily accessible than a collection that more positively contributes to archival inclusivity and diverse social representation raises questions about whether we are unwittingly upholding oppressive frameworks by failing to provide access to the tapes. This is something of a dilemma for us because obviously we do not want to give items like the figurines more of a promotional platform than collections with a wealth of untapped research possibilities, such as that which is potentially contained on the Anand tapes. It is important for us to reflect on and learn from such comments in order to continually improve our practice and ensure that we are respectful of the needs and opinions of all our users. It is only by listening and acting that we can further develop our understanding of archival access and how we can make archives and catalogues inclusive spaces.
Figure 8: Shooting Draft script from D/061 Papers of Andrew Davies held at Special Collections De Montfort University, UK.
For our final item we return to Davies, and a draft script for the film Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason released in 2004. This script has no less than 5 contributors, including the author of the novel from which it was adapted, creating an authorship and copyright minefield! The discussion focused on if it could be determined who made which revisions and how that impacted on access and use. Can only the parts of the script written by Davies be made available to researchers? Stamped with Davies across the front this is undoubtedly his copy of the script, but again, do the other contributors know their revisions are held in a public archive? Should we be allowing access at all? Certainly, if you wanted to quote sections of this script for a publication, as archivists, we would be advising that you would need to contact all contributors for permission to ensure compliance with copyright regulations. With layers of copyright and ownership, it can be difficult to get permission to use scripts, but happily, much of the Davies collection is solo written and with nearly a third of the archive comprising unproduced drafts, there is a wealth of accessible material for researchers.
Supporting Access for All
As we hope this blog has highlighted, we do not pretend to have all the answers but we are committed to creating a prejudice-free archive and believe that pride in our work is not the same as being too proud to learn new methods and share our expertise. Rather, we encourage a cyclical knowledge exchange with our users where decision-making processes are transparent. While we stated at the beginning of this blog that preservation is our primary duty, all of our work from re-packaging, arrangement, digitisation and migration and cataloguing is, in fact, all geared towards ensuring long-term accessibility for future generations. Even if we can’t make it available immediately, we’ll be working on it.[v]
Natalie and Katharine
To discuss any of our collections or to make an appointment please contact: email@example.com
[i] The Stephen Lawrence Research Centre features a seminar room and communal study space as well as a permanent exhibition telling the story of Stephen’s life and murder and the legacy of Doreen Lawrence’s tireless work to achieve justice for her son. The exhibition includes several displays of items from the archival collection, Papers of Doreen Lawrence relating to the Stephen Lawrence Case. The collection is currently closed but it is hoped access arrangements will be finalised over the summer and made available to the public at Special Collections and via our online catalogue.
[ii] For further reading and examples of our work on archives and representation please visit our
[iv] While work has started on creating an online catalogue for this collection and access is imminent, arrangements are still being finalised.
[v] The session created for the open day and this blog were both inspired in no small way by a module I have recently completed for the postgraduate qualification in Archives and Records Management at CAIS, Dundee which I am currently undertaking by distance learning.