Christian Olesen: Film History in the Making: Digital Archives and Film Historiography – Historical and Future Perspectives (2012-2016)

Christian Olesen: Film History in the Making: Digital Archives and Film Historiography – Historical and Future Perspectives

September 2012 – September 2016
University of Amsterdam, Department of Mediastudies
Supervised by: Prof.dr. Julia Noordegraaf

My project investigates the implications which digitization in film archives bears upon film historical research in primarily academic settings. Never before have so many moving images and film-related materials been available for film historical research while digital scholarship in historical disciplines is concurrently proliferating. With regard to this development, my dissertation addresses the need for understanding its consequences for film historical methodology in order to develop a critical framework for evaluating and conceptualizing digital archives-based scholarship. From this point of departure, my dissertation aspires to produce both a historical account of digital film historiography and suggestions for further developments of digital research methodology. To this end, my dissertation discusses in a historical perspective, how the conception of film archives as a source of film history has developed, from the ”first wave” of scientific film archives founded in the 1910s to scholarly Hyperkino presentations of silent cinema a century later. Subsequently, my dissertation conducts a case study of a digitized collection of early silent film and related material, from a digital humanities perspective to reflect upon what it means to do film history in a digital research environment.

My research’s conceptual frame is rooted in science and technology studies and media history. Lending a central notion from sociologist Bruno Latour’s key work Science in Action (Harvard University Press, 1987) I regard current developments in digital film historiography as film history ”in the making” with attention to the research agendas that guide the design of digital tools of analysis. To add a historical perspective to this framework which will enable me to compare digital to earlier forms of film historiography, I combine it with the related dispositif-approach as (re-)defined by film scholars Maria Tortajada and François Albera in Cinema Beyond Film. Media Epistemology in the Modern Era (Amsterdam University Press, 2010), which investigates the development and applications of audiovisual technologies in scientific research contexts historically.