The World Assembly of Youth and Archival Serendipity

James Fenwick, Sheffield Hallam University

19 January 2021


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.

Link to World Assembly of Youth

[i] John Baxter, Stanley Kubrick Produces (London: Harper Collins, 1997), 51.

[ii] A.H. Weiler, ‘By Way of Report: Of Disney’s Dog Cartoon Feature – Other Items.’ New York Times, June 29 (1952), X3.

[iii] ‘Guide to Entertainment Industry Resources.’ American Heritage Center.

[iv] ‘Inventory of the Richard De Rochemont Papers.’ American Heritage Center.

[v] Michael Harlan Hoeflich, ‘Serendipity in the Stacks, Fortuity in the Archives.’ Law Library Journal, vol. 99, no. 4 (2007), 813.

[vi] Ibid., 826.

[vii] Correspondence with the author, July 2019.

[viii] Nancy Lusignan Schultz, ‘Serendipity in the Archive.’ The Chronicle Review (2011):

[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.

Citizen science. “Try again. Fail again. Fail better” (Part 2)

Figure 1: A filmic artifact in Berlin. A suburban railroad bridge with a painting showing Marlene Dietrich.

Part 2: Project description and implementation of basic requirements on citizen science projects.

Anna Luise Kiss reports from her film studies citizen research project.

6 October 2020

In the first blog post I explained how citizen science is defined and what it’s hype is attributed to. I also explained how I conceptualize citizen science. In this entry I first introduce my project The cinematic face of the city of Potsdam in rough outlines. Afterwards, I show how I implemented some basic requirements, as they are formulated in the context of, and in comparison with, existing citizen science projects. In the third entry I resolve Beckett’s “Try again, fail again, fail better” announced in the title and it’s implications for my project.

The filmic face of the city of Potsdam

In order to promote the so-called minor disciplines, the German Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (Federal Ministry of Education and Research) has set up third-party funding, which allows projects from fields such as Bio-statistics, Digital Humanities, Yiddish studies and Film Science to be funded. In particular, it is intended to ensure greater visibility for the research achievements of the minor disciplines. I received funding for my project “The cinematic face of cities” on the image-building of film cities as a discursive process. It runs from 1 December 2020 to 30 November 2022 and is based at the Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF and Aarhus University. A summary of the research program for this subordinate project can be found here.

Figure 2: Filmic artefact: a supermarket in Potsdam surrounds its logo with a film flap

An important thesis of the project is that, in addition to various actors and their textual and pictorial contributions to the discourse, it is precisely cinematic artefacts in public space that contribute to the formation of the “film city” image. Examples include streets named after filmmakers and film-related material such as posters and stills displayed in various locations, such as, in one case, a hotel breakfast room. The same applies to objects such as old film cameras and spotlights displayed as a form of interior decoration. I assume that this materialized film history, as well as references to current media productions, must be taken into account in an analysis of the film city image. One of my goals is, therefore, to account for the presence of cinematic artifacts in urban space, uncovered as a result of the two selected case studies Potsdam and Aarhus, thus making them visible and analyzable. My approach involves investigating the presence of the artifacts by asking, for example, whether they appear in the city as nodes, whether certain film professions or film characters occur more frequently, to which film historical epochs they refer, or whether gender-specific weightings can be determined. The initial thesis is that artifacts are bundled around the film’s production and distribution locations, that apart from actresses, the majority of film makers represented are male, and that, as far as the gender-distribution of characters is concerned, female characters prevail. A further assumption is that in urban space, not all the phases of film history that characterize a film city are referenced equally.

After a workshop at the University of Zurich with the title ‘Citizen Science – just try it!’, I was inspired to tackle the search for cinematic artifacts by inviting the citizens of Potsdam to participate in the project. From January 25 to March 1, 2020, I invited the citizens of Potsdam to report their cinematic finds to me and help me analyze the results. Important sources for the preparation of the sub-project were the various guidelines and advisories on citizen science projects from universities and citizen science associations. I will now discuss some basic requirements regarding citizen science projects and explain how I implemented them.

My implementation of basic requirements on citizen science projects

Open Science

As part of the open science movement, citizen research projects should take into account the standards of this new scientific culture. Research goals, theses and methods must be communicated transparently. How those involved can participate in the research project and which scientific and social goals a project pursues should be made easily understandable.[i] Data must be made openly available and stored for retrieval beyond the course of the project in such a way that it is suitable for subsequent use. And finally, results must be published in open access.[ii]

Figure 3: The cinematic face of the city of Potsdam on the page of Bürger schaffen Wissen.

The establishment of a research website was important for the presentation of the research objectives, theses and methods. It has taken some time to break down the various aspects of the project into short and concise texts. It was helpful that I prepared the project for the platform Bürger schaffen Wissen (citizens create knowledge) parallel to the construction of the site. The people in charge gave helpful feedback on the transparency and comprehensibility of the texts necessary for this online presence, which I was able to adapt for my own site.

Figure 4: Filmic artefacts in Epicollect5’s database.

I implemented the open provision of the collected data via a database of the app Epicollect5. This is a free application that was developed at the Big Data Institute of the University of Oxford and is used by many researchers. It allows users to set up an app for the collection of data according to individual requirements. The application automatically makes the collected data available via a public database either in list form or by converting it into a map. Epicollect5 allows one, for example, to capture data on filmic artifacts, including geo-data, photo and description, and to upload it in real time while walking the city. The data will remain publicly accessible until the end of the project. Since the map offered by Epicollect5 allows only a very rough approximation and does not enable differentiation of the types of filmic artifacts, the data is currently transferred to a Google Maps. Here, different colors and assignment levels can be defined. This map and the accompanying evaluation lists function as an important basis for the analysis.

Figure 5: Currently, the cinematic artefacts are being transferred to a Google Map.

I could not find a satisfactory solution for the long-term storage of the data at the start of the project. The current arrangement is that the Film University set up storage space for the data on a server of the University, and it would in principle be possible to store the data here at the end of the project and make it available to interested parties for subsequent use via a password. However, this long-term storage would not be of much use, because the data would be hard to find for other researchers. Thus my solution would not meet the first requirement – “findability” – of the FAIR data principles. I hope for developments in the next two years, which will allow an improved long-term storage for my project. The ideal solution would be a cross-institutional media repository – similar to the one at the Humboldt University, for example, but run specifically for film and media studies. This should at least be networked with the already established publication repositories media/rep/ and MediArXiv, because the data should have a presence in places that are regularly visited by film and media scholars. In general, most universities have developed their own strategies for research data management and have named contact persons for this purpose and provide comprehensive information on their websites. The latter are often universally accessible. For newcomers to the data management aspect of citizen research projects, it would be worth while to study the material depositories of the institutions involved.

Licensing of research data

Since the data of the citizen researchers will not remain locked away in the project, but will be published and possibly used by third parties, it must be clear to all participants from the beginning how the rights to the collected data will be handled.[iii]

On my website, in an explanatory video and within the Epicollect5 app, I informed the citizen researchers that their cinematic finds were immediately released into the public domain on submission. The citizen researchers were thus informed that they license their research data (location, description and photo) with a submission under Creative Commons 0. It was explained to them, that this means that the research data may not only be stored, processed and published by me, but may also be freely available to others for subsequent use in other projects. Further information about Creative Commons or the recommendations for licensing research data of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) were provided. Before each submission, the citizen researchers had to agree or disagree with this procedure. The licensing of research data in citizen research projects via Creative Commons is considered a suitable way to ensure legal certainty.[iv]

Data protection

In spite of the fundamental ethos of openness and transparency in citizen research projects, it is essential to ensure the protection of the personal data of fellow researchers.[v] Requirements concerning basic data protection regulation had to be implemented concurrent with the setting up of the project site. The first contact persons are the data protection officers of your own university, who will provide you with text templates tailored to the requirements of particular websites. They can also help to set up a special contact form that allows communication with fellow citizen researchers. The way is clear for an exchange with the citizen researchers by e-mail only if the storage and processing of an e-mail address has been agreed to and it has been actively accepted that the address may be used for communication.

When setting up the data collection or submission tools for the citizen researchers, the Epicollect5 app offers the advantage that the co-researchers do not have to register with an e-mail address. All I asked for was a freely selectable abbreviation consisting of three letters and two numbers. It is not possible for me as project leader or for those who access the public database to trace the identity of those who submitted the cinematic finds. This does not mean, however, that the co-researchers do not provide data about themselves. A fundamental problem is that when an app is downloaded, information is already sent which is inclusive of the operating system of a smartphone. It is important that the citizen researchers are informed about these data-relevant processes in data protection declarations, which must explicitly refer to the privacy policy of the app thus allowing participants to proactively agree to the transfer of data or opt out. Therefore, it seemed necessary to offer alternatives to data transfer via app. In my case e-mail and Instagram were two alternatives. Both of them again bring along their own challenges for data protection. Especially regarding Instagram, I pointed out that this way is suitable only for people who are already registered with the app and have accepted the terms of use and privacy policy for themselves. I was surprised that other citizen research projects provide little or no information about privacy on their project pages. This is certainly not due to a lack of forethought or an absence of concern to protect the citizen researchers. It is more probably a case that the loss of clarity which a privacy statement brings and the resulting increase in text makes a project seem overtaxing or even frightening. An ideal solution would be the establishment and implementation of a seal of approval process for the data protection of citizen research projects.  Then not every project would have to explain its regulations on various sub-pages so that co-researchers could be sure that data protection has been checked by a suitable authority. For the project initiators, a verification seal would have the advantage that they could work through a clear catalog of requirements and have the protective measures evaluated and, if necessary, supplemented before the project starts.

Public relations

In order to be able to do research, citizens must first learn about the project. In addition, communication with the citizen researchers must take place throughout the research process. Scholars who want to carry out a citizen science project are therefore advised that such projects can only be realized with the help of strategic and comprehensive public relations work – and on the basis of clear responsibilities and capacities for community management.[vi] The public relations work is, of course, implemented on the basis of the target group to be reached. It is the particular requirements of this group which conditions the formulation of guidelines for the forms of address and the channels for public relations work. I recommend getting a suitable media partner on board at an early stage. In my case this was the local newspaper Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten. We agreed that they would run an interview with me at the start of the project, place several free advertisements about the project and establish a social media presence.

Figure 6: One of the advertisements that the local newspaper Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten displayed for the project in its print editions.

In order to interest other regional media in the project, three press releases were produced, with the result that the newspaper Märkische Allgemeine Zeitung, Radio Potsdam and the local tv station HAUPTSTADT.TV also reported on the project. In addition, institutional multipliers such as the Film Museum Potsdam, ProWissen (a local society for the dissemination of science) and the City of Potsdam were won over to the project. They, too, reported on the project in their social media channels in addition to the Film University. Invitations were sent out to citizens’ associations and district networks, the municipal housing and construction company, the Potsdam Marketing und Service GmbH and the local Adult Education Centre. In addition to this regionally focused public relations work, the project was presented on Bürger schaffen Wissen and a Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter account were set up. It became obvious to me that this network structure for public relations work could only be set up because I already knew many of the partners mentioned. Taking this into account makes sense to focus one’s efforts on a familiar and manageable locale when starting out in citizen research.

Defining indicators and deepening knowledge on both sides

A further requirement of citizen research projects is that impact indicators should be defined and communicated in advance, including scientific papers, conference lectures and popular science presentations.[vii] The thinking here is that how interim results and findings are communicated to  the scientific community and society in general must be planned in advance. This requirement can be coupled with another, namely that citizen research projects should be designed in such a way that they contribute equally to the deepening of knowledge on the part of the professional as well as the citizen researchers. It has frequently been pointed out that this certainly requires pedagogical skills and specific formats.[viii] The Green Paper Citizen Science Strategy 2020 for Germany published by the project BürGEr schaffen WISSen – Wissen schafft Bürger (GEWISS) also speaks of the fact that the participants should be able to learn “in a partnership of respect and at eye level”[ix]. Accordingly, my indicators include not only milestones of dissemination and knowledge transfer or science communication, but also formats in which the collected data is analyzed together with citizen researchers and transformed into practical proposals for action for urban development. In addition to workshops, this involved a collective real-time hike to the actual filimic artifacts sites and their analysis in an urban context. This joint field excursion was planned for the Read-a-Road-Map-Day on April 5, 2020. A large part of the plan, however, had to be put on hold due to the Corona crisis. In the next few weeks, I have to decide whether I can set up alternative online proposal.

Recognition for the citizen researchers

A strong emphasis is put on the fact that citizen researchers should not be exploited, but should receive thanks and recognition for their work.[x] It is recommended that they be named as co-authors and/or receive “motivational rewards”[xi]. I followed this principle by mentioning the participation of citizen researchers in the metadata, on the Google Map and in publications. Furthermore, various prizes were raffled among the participants. The partner institutions, such as Film Museum Potsdam and its cinema, donated tickets for exhibitions and film screenings. I contributed thematically matching book prizes and further prizes were donated by the newspaper Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten. In order to be able to determine winners despite the partial anonymity of those who offered submissions, the above mentioned self-chosen abbreviations were necessary. It is important to note that for each raffle, rules for participation and data protection must be developed and published.

Figure 7: Screenshot of my project page with some prizes that were raffled off among the citizen researchers.

Research ethics

In every research project one must ask oneself to what extent ethical aspects come into play. Depending on the research design, citizen research projects require ethical sensitivity on several levels. It is imperative that ethical implications must be examined and taken into account.[xii] In addition to publications specifically on the topic of citizen science and ethics, I have based my work on a document of the European Union on Ethics in Social Science and Humanities and found a lot of helpful information and suggestions on the VerbundFDB website. This is an association of research data centers in educational research, whose data management and ethics information was easily transferable to the citizen research project context. In addition to the transparent and truthful communication of the research objectives, the following is of the highest priority: disclosure of the sources of funding and the project partners; provision of contact possibilities; the protection of the participating citizens from any damage. This protection was first of all implemented by the measures for data protection and data management described above. Furthermore, it was emphasized to the interested parties at various points that participation is voluntary, that a revocation or limitation of the given consent is possible and that this would not result in disadvantages for the co-researchers.

It was also important to inform fellow researchers about the legal framework conditions for the taking of photographs in public spaces and to point out again and again that in case of doubt, no photographs should be taken. Depending on the task at hand, it may be necessary to carry out training and some pre-testing prior to data collection. In order not to burden the citizen researchers, the project, or the public with complications regarding personal rights, all submitted photos were checked and, in the case of a submission, parts of pictures were blurred, so as to render license plates and people unrecognizable. Communicating this security measure to the co-researchers meant that they could be sure that no critical data was included in the database. I, as project leader, reserved the right to exclude, delete or edit submitted research data I considered racist, obscene or a violation of personal rights. Such a notice not only protects against trolling, for example, but also protects citizen researchers from having their data found next to entries that might be deemed questionable.

The basic requirements for citizen science projects listed here are not complete. The assurance of data quality, for example, was merely touched upon; and the evaluation of citizen research projects was not mentioned at all. The third and last blog entry, however, goes precisely in the direction of an initial evaluation. There I will report on how the project has actually progressed and why, despite a discrepancy between theory and practice and an apparent mismatch between effort and the number of participants, I draw a positive interim conclusion.

[i] See Daniel Wyler, François Grey, Citizen science at universities: Trends, guidelines and recommendations, (Leuven 2016) 4 and European Citizen Science Association (ECSA), Ten Principles of Citizen Science, September 2015.

[ii] See Paul Ayris, Alea López de San Román, Katrien Maes, Ignasi Labastida, Open Science and its role in universities: A roadmap for cultural change (Leuven 2018) 21; Wyler, Grey, Citizen science at universities, 4 and ECSA, Ten Principles of Citizen Science.

[iii] See Wyler, Grey, Citizen science at universities, 13.

[iv] See Jana Rückert-John et al, Konzept zur Anwendbarkeit von Citizen Science in der Ressortforschung des Umweltbundesamtes. Abschlussbericht (Dessau-Roßlau 2017) 26–29.

[v] See Ayris et al, Open Science and its role in universities, 21, Wyler, Grey, Citizen science at universities, 4 and ECSA, Ten Principles of Citizen Science.

[vi] See Ayris et al, Open Science and its role in universities, 21 and Wyler, Grey, Citizen science at universities, 4 and 10.

[vii] Ibid., 4 and 10–11.

[viii] See ibid. and ECSA, Ten Principles of Citizen Science.

[ix] Aletta Bonn et al, Green Paper Citizen Science Strategy 2020 for Germany (Leipzig, Berlin, 2016), 13.

[x] See Ayris et al, Open Science and its role in universities, 21 and ECSA, Ten Principles of Citizen Science.

[xi] Wyler, Grey, Citizen science at universities, 4, see also 13.

[xii] See ibid., 7 and 13 and ECSA, Ten Principles of Citizen Science.

Anna Luise Kiss is a PostDoc Researcher at the Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF and currently heads the BMBF-funded research project The cinematic face of cities. She is editor of the anthology Jede Menge Perspektiven. Der Regisseur Herrmann Zschoche (CineGraph Babelsberg, 2014) and – together with Dieter Chill – of Pathenheimer: Filmfotografin. DEFA Movie Stills (Ch. Links Verlag, 2016) and co-editor of the current issue of the FFK Journal (Avinus, 2020). Her dissertation Topografie des Laiendarsteller-Diskurses – zur Konstruktion von Laiendarstellerinnen und Laiendarstellern im Kinospielfilm (Springer VS) was published in March 2019. Also recently published was “Eine Medienwissenschaftlerin und eine Schauspielerin unterhalten sich über Performanz in ihrem beruflichen Alltag. Eine Text-Performance“ in Thomas Etzemüller (ed.) Der Auftritt. Performance in der Wissenschaft (transcript, 2019).

Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.


Postdoctoral Fellowship at Stockholm University – Memory and Meaning in Cultures of Connectivity

Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Media Studies,
Stockholm University

Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Media Studies. Reference number SU FV-0230-15. Deadline for applications: February 28, 2015.

The Department of Media Studies (IMS) is an internationally oriented research environment encompassing the Section of Journalism, Media and Communication (JMK), the Section of Film Studies and the Centre for Fashion Studies. Both JMK and Cinema Studies have been defined as nationally outstanding and internationally prominent by Stockholm University and external examiners. The section of JMK hosts a range of large, externally funded research programmes that span broad fields of media research.

The Department now announces a post doctoral fellowship within the research programme Existential Terrains: Memory and Meaning in Cultures of Connectivity, headed by Associate Professor Amanda Lagerkvist (Wallenberg Academy Fellow), financed by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Foundation and Stockholm University.

Within the research programme we are exploring one of the major issues of our time: what it means to be human in the digital age. Our rapidly changing communication culture offers new spaces for exploring what is important in life, but our digitalised lives also pose new challenges that heighten the vulnerabilities of being human. Digitalisation affects our existence in a number of ways, and the overarching research question concerns how people navigate the transformations involved in the digitalisation of our lifeworld. One pertinent area for such emergent existential issues is the desequestering of death in the digital age: in the Global North death has returned to everyday life in digital memory practices; on digital memorials, in communities of grief and remembrance, on suicide sites and in cancer blogs.

We live in a world where our memories and identities emerge through socio-technological ensembles, but these rely upon storage in rapidly ageing and dying machines. Questions about the quantified and wired self, and its archiving in our era of hyperconnectivity, have been accompanied by debates about the ‘right to be forgotten’ in a world where algorithms trace and shape our movements online. The very nature of memory is simultaneously transitioning in our era of temporal instantaneity. And hyper connectivity is also supplemented by different forms of disconnection.

Setting out from theoretical debates within the fields of media, religion and culture, digital memory studies and existence philosophy, and by employing a multi-method research design (combining online ethnography, interviews and analysis of digital form and content) the project aims to develop an existential approach within media studies. The purpose of the programme is to produce new knowledge about the possibilities for meaning-making in relation to the profundity of our lives, existential and spiritual issues, while acknowledging the fundamental affective ambivalence, potential loss of meaning and predicaments for existential public health in the digital age.

The successful applicant for this position will be an important contributor to the research group, and will participate in the broader research community within the Department. The position also enables international conference participation and the project generously covers such expenses.

Job assignments
The primary job assignments within this position include research within the programme, and participation in and administration of activities within the research network. The fellow may also be assigned departmental administrative duties and/or teaching

General eligibility requirements
A postdoctoral fellow is someone who is primarily hired to conduct research and who has a PhD degree, or the equivalent.

Selection criteria
Degrees should have been received within three years of the deadline for applications. If there are particular reasons the degree may have been received earlier. These my involve leave of absence du to illness, parental leave, clinical service, positions of trust and simliar etc.

In appointing the postdoctoral fellow particular emphasis will be placed on scientific qualifications. The applicant should have documented research experience of studying the internet and/or digital cultures. An applicant who has done previous research on media and memory, and on digital memory cultures in particular, or who has been engaged in research about disconnection, media phenomenology or who has done research on digital media within the field of media, religion and culture will be considered highly qualified for the post. So is someone with a particular track record of  having developed qualitative methods in studying digital cultures.

Conditions of employment
The post implies a full time employment for two years, with a possible extension if there are particular reasons. The starting date is September 1, 2015 or as agreed.

Stockholm University strives to be a working place free of discrimination, affording equal opportunities for all.

For more information about this position, contact Amanda Lagerkvist, tfn 08-164431, e-mail:

Union representatives
Anqi Lindblom-Ahlm (Saco-S) and Lisbeth Häggberg (Fackförbundet ST), phone: 08-16 2000 (vx), and Gunnar Stenberg (SEKO), phone:  070-316 43 41.

The application should be written in Swedish or English and should contain:

* a cover letter;
* a resumé;
* a copy of your PhD Degree Diploma;
* a research plan (2 pages), where the purpose, materials and methods of the proposed study are specified. The assignment is here to describe how the study  will contribute to the programme Existential Terrains: Memory and Meaning in Cultures of Connectivity, and to the new emergent field of research surrounding digital media and existential issues;
* a list of publications;
* references.

Welcome with your application marked with SU FV-0230-15, and submit it no later than February 28, 2015 by e-mail to:

Files submitted electronically should be in Word or pdf-format. NOTE: refer to the number SU FV-0230-15 in the subject area of your e-mail message.

Amanda Lagerkvist
PhD Associate Professor
Wallenberg Academy Fellow

Dept. of Media Studies (IMS/JMK)
Stockholm University
PO. Box 27861
115 93 Stockholm

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