‘Stardom and the Archive’ symposium, University of Exeter, 8-9 February 2020: Report

Georgia Brown, Queen Mary, University of London

28 February 2020


The ‘Stardom and the Archive’ symposium, hosted by Lisa Stead and Becky Rae at the University of Exeter, opened with an engaging keynote from Maryanne Dever, who had travelled all the way from Sydney’s University of Technology to challenge our perceptions of what is an archive. By raising questions about the material traces of stardom, the cultural and political economies of archiving, hierarchies of archival significance and value, and the treatment of rubbish or trash in the context of archival collecting and processing, Maryanne started us all thinking about what ends up in an archive and how it gets there. In particular, those items which generate significant emotion in a researcher, not because they have academic significance, but because of their connection to the subject.

Maryanne Dever, Keynote: ‘On Britney Spears’ Shopping List’ (courtesy of Lisa Stead)

This enthusiasm was re-invigorated during the second keynote given by Lucy Bolton (Queen Mary, University of London), who not only described her experiences working with the archives of Vivien Leigh, Marilyn Monroe and Iris Murdoch but also what items are in her own Bolton Archive. This created an atmosphere, maintained over the course of the whole conference, where everyone felt they could let their ‘Fan Flags Fly’ and show, not just their knowledge about their chosen star or archive, but also their sheer joy and excitement about their subject. Most conversations during the subsequent breaks were dominated by the question “what is the one item would you like to have in your private collection/archive?”

Lucy Bolton, Keynote: ‘A Theorist Loose in the Archives of Vivien Leigh, Marilyn Monroe and Iris Murdoch’ (courtesy of Lisa Stead)

The panels themselves were equally inspiring, showcasing a variety of exciting projects and alternative approaches to both star studies and archival research. It was just such a shame that they were so well curated and programmed that it made choosing which panel to attend extremely difficult.

In the ‘Reframing and Retelling via the Archive’ panel, Anthea Taylor (University of Sydney), Jennifer Voss (De Montfort University) and, Sarka Gmiterkova (Masaryk University) discussed how information held in archives can re-visit and challenge the accepted knowledge and opinions. At the same time, Linn Lönroth (Stockholm University), Sarah Rahman Niazi (University of Westminster), Robert Shail (Leeds Beckett University) and Cathy Lomax (Queen Mary, University of London) each examined the different ways that press and publicity were used to create, or to maintain, the star image in the ‘Archiving Press and Publicity’ panel. Using a variety of archival sources, Linn examined how Preston Sturges harnessed the collective skills of his character actors to create the phenomenon that was “The Preston Sturges stock company”. Sarah introduced us to the metaphors of romantic Urdu poetry, which were used to describe the star bodies of 1930s and 40s India in two rare Urdu texts, Filmi Priyan (Film Fairies, 1936) and Filmi Titliyan (Film Butterflies, 1945). It was especially evocative as these texts contained little to no pictures of the stars. From no imagery of star bodies to an abundance, Robert bought along examples of 1960s press books, held at the BFI archives. Using Albert Finney as a case study, he examined how Finney’s image was used and adapted through the 1960s – from angry young man in Saturday Night, Sunday Morning (1960) through the fun-loving Tom Jones (1963), to the man trying to return to his roots in Charlie Bubbles (1968). The last speaker of the panel, Cathy used the financial records, held at the Billy Rose Theatre Division of the New York Public Library to examine the later-life advertising career of Joan Crawford. Focusing on the 1973 advertisement for Eve of Roma Cosmetics, Cathy demonstrated how Crawford established a degree of control over her image which had been denied to her in her early career under a studio contract.

 
‘Archiving Press and Publicity’ panel: Linn Lönroth, Sarah Rahman Niazi, press book of Far From the Madding Crowd (1967) from Robert Shail’s paper, and Cathy Lomax (courtesy of Llewella Chapman).
 

With a focus on British stars, Andrew Spicer (UWE, Bristol), Llewella Chapman (University of East Anglia) and, James Chapman (University of Leicester) demonstrated how different archives can hold different types of information which can be used, in particular accessing financial records to examine the costs of stardom in the ‘(British) Stars in the Archives’ panel. While in the ‘Making Visible’ panel, Lies Lanckman (University of Hertfordshire), Ciara McKay (The University of Edinburgh) and Lisa Stead (University of Exeter) examined previously unexplored elements of a star’s life and/or star image were examined. After briefly describing the circuitous series of events which led her to learn Yiddish, Lies introduced us to the discussions of Norma Shearer in the Yiddish-language American press. While the English-language press did showcase her marriage to Irving Thalberg, creating a star image based upon a happy wife and working mother, Lies had us thinking about the narratives which are neglected in mainstream medias, but which are there to be explored and examined in media of marginalised groups. This theme of re-examination and re-framing was sustained by Ciara and her analysis of Irene Dunne, using archival material from 1930 – 1935. Previously dismissed as “lady-like”, Dunne’s star image in fact encompasses modernity with the validation of working women and “companionate marriage” with her own bi-costal marriage and the suggestion that women “can have it all”. Following a last minute withdraw – and given the weather everyone was very surprised there were not more – Lisa stepped into the breach and took the opportunity to introduce us to the work she had been undertaking to interrogate Vivien Leigh’s connections with the South West of England. And there will be more about that subject in a little bit… For now, back to the conference.

‘Making Visible’ panel: Lies Lanckman and Ciara McKay (courtesy of Lisa Stead)
 

James Downs (University of Exeter), Melanie Williams (University of East Anglia) and Pamela Hutchinson showed how both too little, or too much can create issues for a researcher in the ‘Gaps, Challenges and New Archival Methodologies’ panel. After spending time at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum in Exeter, James was inspired to research Anton Walbrook, no small task given this very mysterious man left behind no official archive and, indeed, very little paper trail at all. But James persevered and, after building his own archive, will be releasing his biography very soon. Melanie, on the other hand, had the opposite problem of so much information relating to Diana Dors. With a long and varied career – film star, chat show host/guest, memoirist, columnist, commentator, pin-up, recording artist, sitcom actress, variety/cabaret act, celebrity slimmer – as well as her personal life, it is more a question of having to be very focused. Pamela then took us on a tour of star graves and memorials opening our academic minds up to an archive beyond those made up of paper and photographs. Many in the audience were worried that this might have been a morbid and upsetting topic, whereas it was very thought provoking, with many of us considering a star’s posthumous image, few of us include that of their final material legacy, their memorials and final resting places. While in the other panel, ‘Image and Persona through the Archive’, Claire Smith and Wendy Russell (British Film Institute), Polly Rose (University of Bristol) and, Laura Milburn (University of Birmingham) presented on how a star’s image and persona can be examined through their archive.

‘Gaps, Challenges and New Archival Methodologies’ panel: James Downs, Melanie Williams and Pamela Hutchinson (courtesy of Lisa Stead)
 

The final two panels of the day focused on fandom in one room and Cary Grant on the other. Ellen Wright (De Montfort University) and Michael Williams (University of Southampton) both looked at fan magazines to explore the relationship between stars and their fans in the ‘Archives and Fandom’ panel. While Kathrina Glitre (UWE Bristol) discussed Cary Grant’s impact upon the production of Night and Day (1946) in the ‘Cary Grant and the Archive’ panel. With information from the daily production reports, written by the film’s production manager Eric Stacey, which are currently held at the Warner Bros. Archive at USC, Kathrina was able to pinpoint particular scenes where Grant had made a significant changes. By conducting a close analysis of this scene – the one where Cole Porter is trying to manipulate his new wife into giving up their honeymoon so he can go and work in New York – Kathrina was able to demonstrate how Grant’s attention to detail enhanced the performances in the scene. This was followed by Charlotte Crofts (UWE Bristol) who explained the curation of the Cary Comes Home Festival and his continuing impact upon the city of Bristol. She described how the festival uses locations around Bristol to stage a number of events, with previous ones being Bringing Up Baby (1938) being screened in the Natural History Museum and Notorious (1946) screened in a wine cellar along with wine tasting. Charlotte had everybody wishing they could attend both 2020 festivals, the one held in Bristol 20 – 22 November, and the one to be held in New York to mark the 100 year anniversary of Grant’s arrival in America.

‘Cary Grant and the Archive’ panel: Kathrina Glitre and Charlotte Crofts (courtesy of Lisa Stead and @ReframingVL)
 

The two panels held on the morning of Day 2 were ‘Regional Stars, Regional Archives’ with Yektanursin Duyan (Mardin Artuklu University), Claire Mortimer (University of East Anglia) and, Caroline Lankhorst (De Montfort University) who all presented on how a star is shaped by their national and regional identity and, at the same time, ‘Vivien Leigh and the Archive’ with Denise Mok (University of Toronto), Georgia Brown (Queen Mary, University of London) and, Vicky Haddock (Zenzie Tinker Conservation/RAMM) each explored different ways of examining the star image of Vivien Leigh. Visiting us all the way from Toronto, Denise explored the images held in the Edith Nadajewski Scrapbook Collection. A life-long film fan, Edith collected a vast collection of star images and curated her own archive of scrapbooks, each dedicated to a different star. Using the appointment diaries, held within the Vivien Leigh Archive at the V&A Museum, I provided insight into the day to day arrangements of a working actress, and demonstrated just how much effort Leigh expended on preparations for her performances and on her own image. The final paper of the panel was given by Vicky were she explored the impact that Leigh and the characters she performed, had on the dressmaking patterns of the 1930s and 1940s. These three papers demonstrated the labour that Leigh herself put into how she looked and just how much effort fans went to emulate her.

‘Vivien Leigh and the Archive’ panel: Denise Mok, Georgia Brown and Vicky Haddock (courtesy of Llewella Chapman)
 

Braving the weather, many conference attendees stayed in the afternoon for the Reframing Vivien Leigh exhibition, which showcased the research findings of a 20-month project lead by Lisa Stead (University of Exeter) and the project’s research assistant Becky Rae (University of Exeter), and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The project was run in partnership with the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM), Topsham Museum and the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum. Lisa led a round table with Rachel Nichols (Topsham Museum), Shelley Tobin (RAMM), Phil Wickham (Bill Douglas Cinema Museum), Keith Lodwick (V&A Museum) and Kendra Bean (Vivien Leigh biographer) as they discussed Vivien Leigh and her connection to the South West. In particular, Shelley and Rachel spoke about the Vivien Leigh items held in their collections. These included dresses designed by Victor Stiebel and by Harald, which had been donated by Suzanne Farrington, Leigh’s daughter, after her mother’s death. She chose to send them to her aunt, Dorothy Holman who established the Topsham Museum and who had a curatorial relationship with Freda Wills at RAMM.

Curators roundtable and Q&A: Shelley Tobin, Rachel Nichols, Phil Wickham, Keith Lodwick and Kendra Bean (courtesy of Lisa Stead)

The highlight was the discussion of the nightdress from Gone With the Wind (1939), which Leigh was given as a gift from producer David O’Selznick. However, we were told that her husband was disappointed that she chose this item, as he would have preferred the Burgundy Ballgown. This lead to much speculation as to why she chose the nightdress, with the practical ones amongst us stating that, with a war on, she would have gotten more use out of a nightdress, not to mention it would be easier to transport back. Indeed, it was so easy to pack that it spent some of its existence stored in a plastic Sainsburys bag. But worry not, this dress is now being properly looked after in the museum archive, to the extent that they had brought a replica with them for display at the exhibition.

Replica of Vivien Leigh’s nightdress from Gone with the Wind (1939) (courtesy of Llewella Chapman)

The exhibition had some other wonderful items on display, including the painting which Leigh herself painted, and which was bought at the recent Sotheby’s auction. We were also able to explore the outputs of Lisa’s research project. These included, getting up close and personal with the 3D models of the clothes held by Topsham Museum and RAMM, travelling with Leigh using the digital map and listening to the 3 episode podcast. All of these outputs can be found on the Reframing Vivien Leigh website (http://reframingvivienleigh.exeter.ac.uk)

Reframing Vivien Leigh exhibition (courtesy of Lisa Stead)
 

It was an inspiring weekend, which generated many exciting conversations, and I would like to extend my thanks and congratulations to Lisa Stead and Becky Rae for organising both the conference and the exhibition. And I must not forget the conference dinner, where the allocated tables encouraged more conversations with new people. Future conferences will have a lot to live up to.


Georgia Brown is a PhD researcher in the department of Film Studies at Queen Mary, University of London. Her research studies the prosodic prominence and overall rhythms in each of Vivien Leigh’s onscreen performances, by analysing the suprasegmental characteristics of accented words and the associated changes in the fundamental frequency (F0). This study will develop an understanding of how Leigh’s voice was impacted by ageing and illness and how this has affected her star image. Georgia has presented her research at the University of Lincoln as part of the Extra Sonic Practice series, at the BAFTSS ‘Stardom and Performance’ Symposium and at the ‘Stardom and the Archive’ Symposium at University of Exeter. Her next paper will be at BAFTSS 2020 in St Andrews.


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: 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.


 

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