IAMHIST report by Dr. Sian Barber & Berber Hagedoorn, MA.
The roundtable discussion which began the conference included representatives from the Imperial War Museum in London, the Holocaust Museum in Washington and the Danish Film Institute. Thomas Christensen from the Danish Film Institute discussed their current programme of digitisation and how their data is to be aggregated with Europeana. He highlighted the challenges of digitisation and the impact such processes have upon the original collections, for example the tensions between the contextualisation of content and the need for preservation. He also referred in passing to projects including EUscreen and the European Film Gateway as conducting similar kind of work.
Raye Farr from theHolocaust museum in Washington spoke about the way in which visitors engage with the museum collections and suggested the complexities for both live museums and online museum environments in meeting visitor and user needs. This is particularly relevant to the development of the Comparative Virtual Exhibitions within EUscreen, which will offer a unique user experience but will need to offer a coherent and simple narrative while at the same time addressing the diversity of material involved. She suggested that the role of museums is to preserve memory but wondered to what extent that could happen online and how the contested issues and boundaries of memory could be adequately addressed.
One of the most interesting papers was the presentation given about the Danish LARM Audio Research Archive. Bente Larsen from the University of Copenhagen is the project manger for this ambitious project which aims to place 1 million hours of Danish radio material online, covering 114 years of audio recording. This newly created digital archive faces many of the same issues as EUscreen – including issues of copyright, streaming and of providing access to cultural heritage. LARM aims to create a user-focused infrastructure which will benefit students and researchers and provide access to this material, but as yet it can only be accessed by users from within Denmark.
In the same panel, Heidi Svømmekjær (Roskilde University) was also discussing radio and in particular the problems and possibilities for re-entering the absent ‘object’ in the (digital) archive. Her case study was The Hansen Family, a programme that was broadcast from 1929 to 1949, of which 2-3 episodes out of 900 episodes remain. Svømmekjær notably drew upon the work of Antoinette M. Burton, Archive stories: facts, fictions, and the writing of history to address the methodological challenges of dealing with missing radio recordings and how the missing object could be reinstalled within the archive when only the basic metadata remains.
The history project based on the British broadcasting trade union BECTU was the focus of the paper given by Andrew Dawson (University of Greenwich). This paper focused on some important questions about conducting historical projects and the importance of oral history. Dawson highlighted the importance of drawing on a range of material to explore the work of the film industry, rather than simply focusing on the recollections of a number of important individuals. He suggested that listening to authoritative and dominant voices can obscure the more detailed history which can emerge from a wider sample. Dawson also wondered about European broadcasters and if different organisations were conducting similar projects about their own film and television industries which draw on oral history.
From EUscreen partner Utrecht University, Berber Hagedoorn presented on Dutch Multi-Platform Television as a Practice of History and Memory. By means of a case analysis of two Dutch cross-media projects, the documentary series In Europa (In Europe) and the youth documentary series 13 in de Oorlog (13 in the War), Hagedoorn discussed the integration and adaptation of television’s past and audiovisual archive materials in a new context of television itself. This challenges the dominant conception that television is a disposable practice incapable of memory. Hagedoorn’s research deals with archival materials from the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision.
Sian Barber, (Royal Holloway, University of London) presented on the methodological challenges posed by the EUscreen project. In a paper entitled Whose Archive, Whose History? Barber suggested that any online visual material needs to be adequately contextualized in order to give the most detailed understanding possible to end users. Barber emphasized the need for a ‘digital historiography’ to help users, in particular students, develop skills in ‘reading’ online material as historical sources. Portals such as EUscreen offer a great deal of material to the users but unless they interrogate the material carefully and fully understand what kind of material it is, then it will be of limited use to them. Barber outlined what the EUscreen project was doing to contextualise material on the portal and how this was achieved through the content selection strategy, virtual exhibitions and detailed metadata.
This four day event was a great opportunity to disseminate information about the EUscreen project and to hear about other projects which have interesting convergences with our own work.