Media Studies Seminar 2023

Recordings Vol.2 –
Alternative Television Histories and Historiographies

Media Studies Seminar 2023

The Media Studies Seminar 2023 was hosted by the  FIAT/IFTA Media Studies Commission (MSC) and the BFI at the BFI Southbank in London, UK.

The 5th edition of the Media Studies Seminar had Rethinking Broadcast Archives: Dig, Deconstruct, Display as its theme.

Over the coming weeks, the recordings from the Media Studies Seminar will be published on the FIAT/IFTA website and YouTube page, with the final closing round table recording being shared on Thursday, February 22nd 2024.

This week’s sessions are from the panel Alternative Television Histories and Historiographies:

  • A Patchwork of Archival Sources by Dr Vanessa Jackson (Birmingham City University).
  • On Digital and Analogue Fractures: Reflections on a Feminist Research in the BFI National Television Archive by Dalila Missero (Lancaster University).
  • Towards Decanonisation: Reorganising and Rethinking the Play for Today (1970-1984) Archive by Katie Crosson (Royal Holloway, University of London).
  • Politics of Intellectualism and Archival Policies: Studies About “Women’s Genres” in Kerala by Benita Acca Benjamin (Kerala University).

You can access all recordings on the Media Studies Seminar 2023 page.

A Patchwork of Archival Sources

by Dr Vanessa Jackson

Birmingham City University

A Patchwork of Archival Sources

Sherry Katz emphasises the need for feminist historians to ‘research around our subjects’, finding fragments and traces in different places to construct as full a picture as possible of the women we are studying. I have found this the best approach in my research on women working in costume and make-up in television production in the UK from the 1950s to the present day, which will be illustrated in this paper.

Archives are not neutral repositories of historical documents; rather, they reflect the culture of the organisations that preserve them, and archival absences tell us much about the curating institution. On a recent visit to the BBC’s Written Archives, none of the women I was researching had archived personal files, despite some being Heads of Departments. However, I was able to find fascinating documents which illustrated how they, and their work, were viewed, and of course, that work is visible in the archived productions they worked on.

To build the picture of women’s production careers, we need to look beyond institutional repositories and create new archival sources. With living subjects, oral histories are a mainstay, and organisations like the BECTU History Project undertake commendable work in sharing such recordings. I’ve recorded many video, audio and online oral history interviews. Through each, I’ve learnt more about the often-underappreciated creative work that women in costume and make-up performed.

Personal collections must also be searched out. With the women I’ve studied, several have kept detailed scrapbooks, albums, and folders which document their careers. An important task is the future preservation of these collections, finding them a safe home when their original curators can no longer store them. One digital possibility is an online community archive, like the one that I run: http://pebblemill.org, a collection which documents and celebrates the history of BBC Pebble Mill in Birmingham.

Katz, S. J. (2010) ‘Excavating Radical Women in Progressive-Era California’, in Nupur Chauduri, Sherry J. Katz and Mary Elizabeth Perry (eds), Contesting Archives: Finding Women in the Sources (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010).

Dr Vanessa Jackson

Dr Vanessa Jackson is a former BBC series producer and now an associate professor in the College of English and Media at Birmingham City University. She teaches television production to undergraduates as well as working on employability and enterprise activities. She completed her PhD in television historiography under the supervision of Professor John Ellis at Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2018. Her research interests include the history of television, women’s roles in the television industry, as well as the uses of social media in community history projects. She has also published on the use of social media in enhancing student employability and engagement.

On Digital and Analogue Fractures: Reflections on a Feminist Research in the BFI National Television Archive

by Dalila Missero

Lancaster University

On Digital and Analogue Fractures: Reflections on a Feminist Research in the BFI National Television Archive

In this presentation, I will make some methodological considerations stemming from the research project Broadcasting UK Feminist Video: Mapping Local Histories and Transnational Networks of the 1980s in the BFI Archive, which employs digital tools to reconstruct the collaborations of feminist and women filmmakers and producers with UK broadcasters (Channel 4; ITV) in the context of the United Nations Decade for Women (1975-1985). The investigation, funded by the FIAT/IFTA Media Studies Grant, analyses a selection of 23 programmes – mostly current events shows and documentaries, from the BFI National Television Archive to produce data visualisations, such as maps and network analysis. These visual aids combine data from the analysis of the programmes with information on their production and circulation to recuperate spatial and relational patterns of representation and collaboration.

The liminal status of these productions, which circulated beyond television, particularly in educational and activist circuits, challenges the possibility to trace back and harmonise the data about broadcasting with those concerning other modes of – alternative and non-theatrical – consumption. Moreover, the digital methodologies employed by the project often struggled to convey the historical complexity retrieved from ‘analogue’ materials in non-audiovisual archives. Drawing from this empirical challenge, this paper will reflect on the continuities and conflicts arising from the combined use of digital and analogue infrastructures in archival research. These reflections will also focus on the epistemological and political contradictions that digital methods impose on a feminist research project, whose starting point is the questioning of hegemonic modes of historical reconstruction based on the objectivity and transparency of archives. By putting into dialogue feminist scholarship in the fields of data science, digital humanities and media history, the paper will ultimately call for a broader integration of reflexive practices in archival research.

Dalila Missero

Dalila Missero (Lancaster University, UK) is a lecturer in Film Studies. Her research interests include feminist filmmaking, critical archival studies, digital humanities, and transnational cinema. She was awarded the 2022 Media Studies Grant by the International Federation of Television Archives to explore the feminist productions during the UN Decade of Women preserved in the BFI Television archives. In 2022, she published her first monograph, Women, Feminism, and Italian Cinema. Archives from a Film Culture (Edinburgh University Press), which won the runner-up award of the BAFTSS 2023 Publication Awards.

Towards Decanonisation: Reorganising and Rethinking the Play for Today (1970-1984) Archive

by Katie Crosson

Royal Holloway, University of London

Towards Decanonisation: Reorganising and Rethinking the Play for Today (1970-1984) Archive

This paper will explore the Play for Today ‘canon’ and how a process of reckoning with it has begun via institutions like the BFI and the BBC, though remains incomplete. The BBC1 single-play strand had its 50th birthday in 2020, and since this time, work by writers of colour, women writers, and queer writers, as well as work belonging to maligned aesthetic modes and undervalued themes, has re-emerged as significant and worthy of critical attention. Despite these positive changes, the Play for Today archive is still to be fully opened out and expanded.

Central to this opening out and expanding is the acknowledgement that access to archives, in many cases, remains a classed issue: this paper calls for a re-energised conversation about the remit of public service broadcasters and the gatekeeping of publicly produced mass art from past eras as artefacts for select scholarly interest or as points of interest for those belonging to strict categories pertaining to identity. I will argue that only ‘decanonising’ will serve the marginalised creators and themes that re-canonisation can only tokenise, while serving the large and varied audiences such works were intended for. As such, this paper calls for a radical reimagining of the broadcast archive’s uses and its potential to dismantle the stranglehold of the canon.

Katie Crosson

Katie Crosson is finishing a PhD on Play for Today with Royal Holloway and
the British Film Institute. She has published on women’s work on Play for Today; Edna the Inebriate Woman (1971); Sorry (1981); and Your Man From Six Counties (1976); curated a BBC-BFI collaborative exhibition of Play for Today’s 50th anniversary, and co-programmed the Southbank season of the same name.

Politics of Intellectualism and Archival Policies: Studies About “Women’s Genres” in Kerala

by Benita Acca Benjamin

Kerala University

Politics of Intellectualism and Archival Policies: Studies About "Women's Genres" in Kerala

While studying the myth of the ‘empowered’ Malayali woman who becomes the exemplar of literacy and socio-cultural values in the state of Kerala in India, one becomes acutely aware of the noetic and affective ‘culturing’ of the Malayali woman and her sensibilities. As a researcher working on Malayalam soap operas, it is pertinent to access various archival resources that would shed light on what constitutes ‘women’s genres’ in the region and the ideology of taste and refinement that undergird the easy association of certain genres with women. Given this, the proposed paper attempts to define the politics of intellectualism that determines what is archivable and what is not. This will provide vital insights into the link between ideations pertaining to the ‘ideal’ Malayali woman, the pedagogical functions attributed to ‘women’s genres’ and the politics of archiving. The paper argues that certain class-ed and gendered impulses mediate the process of archiving, as is evident from the absence of certain women’s magazines like Manorama and Mangalam from the public archives in the state. This will be instrumental in identifying what qualifies as knowledge worth revisiting. To this end, the paper will use as primary materials not only the interviews with librarians on the driving motives behind archiving but also the entries published in various Malayalam magazines, periodicals and newspapers to tease out the cultural value attributed to ‘women’s genres’ in Keralam and how it influences the archival worth of these genres.

Benita Acca Benjamin

Benita Acca Benjamin is a PhD Research Scholar (UGC-JRF) at the Institute of English, University of Kerala, India. Her research focuses on the mediation of gender identities in Malayalam Soap Operas. She completed her Undergraduate course in English Language and Literature from Mahatma Gandhi University and pursued her Postgraduate course in English from Hyderabad Central University, India. She has an MPhil in English from the Institute of English, Kerala University. She has presented papers at various National and International Conferences, and her research papers have been published in Scopus-indexed and UGC-CARE-listed journals. Her paper titled “Mira Nair and the Cinema of Postcolonial Spectacle”, co-written with Dr Meena T. Pillai, for the edited volume Women Filmmakers in Contemporary Hindi Cinema is published by Palgrave Macmillan. Another chapter titled “Screening Violence: Reading the Cinematic Spaces Mediated by Mr. and Mrs. Iyer for A Handbook of Indian Indie Cinema will be published by Routledge. Her areas of interest are Cultural Studies, Media Studies, Gender Studies, and Kerala Modernity.

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