Report: IAMHIST Master Class, January 2018, National WWII Museum, New Orleans

Richard Legay, C²DH, University of Luxembourg

15 October 2019


I had the chance – and pleasure – to take part in the IAMHIST Master Class, organized in New Orleans in January 2018, which was a fantastic way to start the year for a PhD student. I am working on the history of commercial radio stations and the experience of the event was, in my opinion, very fruitful. For me, a few elements explain this success: the way IAMHIST organised the Master Class, the benefits of having the National WWII Museum as a host, and the incredible chance of being able to spend some time in New Orleans. The whole trip, as a Public History lecturer at the time, took another dimension through the multiple experiences of Louisiana’s history and culture.

Streets of New Orleans

The Master Class is an event truly dedicated to young scholars who have the opportunity throughout the day to present and get feedback on their research. The main benefit, in my opinion, is that IAMHIST senior members who take part in the event have a wide range of interests and backgrounds. The heterogeneity of the group, with people coming from various countries and disciplines (archives, film studies, press history, etc.), is one of the most interesting features of the network. I see myself as a specialist of radio history, and I was thrilled to discuss with a colleague sharing my interest (the history of the BBC German Service), however getting feedback from scholars working in other neighbouring disciplines was very enriching. I consider it as a perfect way to broaden horizons and to confront your research material to new perspectives and ways to look at it.

My presentation focused on the early stages of my work. I introduced the audience to the actors I am focusing on: commercial radio stations, more precisely Radio Luxembourg (both the English and French services) and Europe n°1. Working on the ‘longer Sixties’, I am interested in the relationship between these stations and popular culture in a transnational context (France, Britain and Luxembourg mostly). At the time of the Master Class, I was still planning to have a wide range of research axes, however, I have now centred my research on the hypothesis that these commercial radio stations shaped a transnational imagined community of listeners. Furthermore, they did so through the development of a soundscape specific to them, and a transmedial radio culture, in which the stations’ own radio magazines (Salut les Copains and Fabulous 208 for example) played a key role by enriching the listening experience with textual and visual elements.

I learned a lot from the comments received, as they were very constructive. One example of how fruitful the Master Class was for me is a comment made on my use of ‘transnationalism’. It was pointed out to me that it might not be adequate to rely on that concept, as it does not really apply to my work – something I fundamentally disagree with. Even if I did not change my mind, I realise now the importance for me to explain and justify the use of such a term. I conduct my research at the C²DH and alongside two doctoral research groups (Docteuropa & PopKult60), in which my colleagues and I embrace transnationalism as a core concept due to the nature of our research. This might lead, as the Master Class revealed, to skip, sometimes, further explanation and definition of the conceptual tool. There will be, for my thesis, some work needed to present and justify my use of transnationalism in my research. I think this anecdote reveals one of the core features of the Master Class: the possibility to get out of some sort of ‘comfort zone’ by meeting new scholars who will bring new inputs and challenge some aspects of your work. Overall, the environment of the Master Class is very welcoming and supportive, something young researchers like myself can really appreciate. I will encourage, in the future, other early career scholars to attend the next editions of the Master Class if they can.

Another benefit of this Master Class was having the National World War II Museum, one of the biggest historical institutions of New Orleans, as a host. The museum really stands out by its size and its number of annual visitors. The galleries display an impressive number of artefacts and cover many aspects of the conflict. Even if one does not necessarily engage with the main narrative of the museum, it is rather interesting to notice the evolution of the exhibitions. Mostly focused on interviews of veterans at first, they now integrate difficult questions. Segregation and racism in the army for example, but also the role of women during the conflict and the existence of internment camps for American citizens of Japanese origins. The Public History enthusiast in me considered the visit to the museum to be a very rich experience. The museum seems to try to engage the audience in various forms, through the use of ‘dog tags’, little electronic tokens that tell you stories about a specific person of your choice throughout the conflict, or through an unusual 4D movie/documentary, starring Tom Hanks, that left me (and other IAMHIST members) rather puzzled. I did not necessarily approve of all choices made by the museum, but I cannot say I was not impressed by its displays. I truly think the museum staff came up with some very powerful ideas and they know how to engage with their visitors. I will certainly remember the experience for a long time, and have already used it in some lectures on Public History.

View from inside the museum

View from outside the museum

Spending a few days in New Orleans and discovering its charms was truly the cherry on the cake. It is likely that the benefits I mentioned above are true for every edition of the IAMHIST Master Class, but I think it will be hard to beat New Orleans in terms of location for the event. Not only the food is fantastic and the music omnipresent, the city is filled with history and its lieux de mémoire are numerous. Many colourful houses reflect the very complex architectural blend of the area, while the French influence is still strong in many aspects of the local culture, but something in particular marked me the most. My hotel was located on Lee Circle, where there used to be a statue commemorating the Confederate general. The City Hall took down the statue recently as part of a wider movement in the USA that triggered heavy discussions in the public sphere as well as interesting debates in Public History. I have been curious about these commemorative issues for a long time, and here I was, facing an empty pedestal, subject of so many controversies, right outside my hotel! I could not believe the odds of staying there.

View from inside the museum, with Lee circle and its empty pillar in the background

I think it is rather clear I enjoyed my experience of the IAMHIST Master Class, and, once again, I highly recommend it to anyone who is considering applying for the next editions. It helped me shape my research, but it was also enriching in other aspects, both socially and culturally.


Richard Legay is a PhD candidate who joined the C²DH in November 2016. He is conducting research on the Transnational History of Popular Culture and Commercial Radio Stations in Western Europe in the 60s, with a focus on Europe n°1 and Radio-Luxembourg in France, the United Kingdom and Germany.


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.

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.


 

  • Archives