Editorial

Old Stories and New Developments: Engaging With Audiovisual Heritage Online

The advent of digital technologies and online platforms has brought new life to audiovisual heritage, traditionally accessed via physical archives, screenings in film musea, and programmes on broadcast television. As Sonja de Leeuw, initiator and coordinator of a number of European projects aimed at creating and facilitating online access to audiovisual heritage, stated in a position paper published in the very first issue of this journal in 2012:

Online European television heritage is a fact. It represents what has been coined ‘the archival turn’. Television programming material that was until recently locked into archival vaults and mainly used by professionals has now become available and accessible to non-industry users. The range of these potential users is large. Addressing their needs requires multi-layered access and a diversity of navigational routes, tailor-made functionalities, and tools to help make sense of the data.1

Today massive amounts of audiovisual heritage are available online. Public archives increasingly offer curated content on their websites or collaborate with European initiatives such as EUscreen.eu or Europe’s Digital Platform of Cultural Heritage Europeana.eu – all in order to attract users. Private companies such as British Pathé use popular video sharing portals such as YouTube or Vimeo to circulate their extensive audiovisual holdings online. Furthermore, many private collectors employ the convenience of these platforms to share their audiovisual heritage collections. Once it is online, audiovisual heritage is used in diverse ways: users watch, share, like/dislike the material; they share comments or even download the material for remix and recirculation purposes.

Historians, heritage scholars, and media historians have all acknowledged the role of digital media in transforming the preservation and circulation of heritage. 2 At the same time, heritage institutions perceive the consequences of these recent technological transformations as both a major challenge and a major opportunity. 3 The online circulation of audiovisual heritage not only affects the mission, role, and structure of heritage institutions, but also re-shapes their relations with media producers and the public. Digital access and curation of audiovisual heritage enable new perspectives on European history and on the formation of European identity. Indeed, the European Union continually stresses citizens’ direct access to online heritage as a vital driver of a new European identity. 4 Whether stemming from top-down or bottom-up initiatives, however, these new perspectives reflect changes in the power relations between lay historians and professionals in the arena of public history. These changes potentially blur the boundaries between authorised and popular visions of European history and identity.

With the ‘archival turn’ 5 taking place in the current participatory media environment, a whole new range of questions surrounding heritage has arisen. Researchers and educators in the fields of media and heritage studies explore new directions of research and teaching using new digital humanities tools such as those developed by the Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities (DARIAH). The availability of these new tools and the research they generate make it possible to reevaluate and creatively advance well-proven ‘analogue’ research methods that have relied on engagement with archival documents, in-depth interviews with practitioners and eye-witnesses, and on-site visits, all rooted within the materiality of traditional heritage.

It is our great pleasure to present this special issue of VIEW Journal of European Television and Culture in honour of Sonja de Leeuw, one of the founding members of the journal. The issue brings together articles that honour Sonja’s inspiring contributions to television history and television historiography. During her outstanding career as television historian and media expert since the 1990s, Sonja has initiated a number of projects that have furthered the field of television history, the comparative exploration of Europe’s audiovisual heritage, and the development of digital humanities tools and methods. She co-founded the European Television History Network and initiated a number of groundbreaking European projects creating access to digitized television heritage such as: Video Active (2006-2009), EUscreen (2009-2012) and EUscreenXL (2013-2016). She is now the chair of the EUscreen Foundation . She is also member of the scientific board of the European digital humanities research initiative DARIAH-EU and has been significantly involved in initiatives aimed at developing digital tools for enabling new ways of doing media-historical research. Building Rich Links to Enable Television History Rese arch ( BRIDGE ) has developed tools such as the Media Researchers’ Data Exploration Suite (MeRDES) and a tool for Contextualizing Media Research Data (CoMeRDa). Together with Jasmijn Van Gorp, Johan Oomen and Maarten de Rijke (among others), Sonja worked on the follow-up tools of MeRDES, AVResearcherXL , (CLARIN-NL) and TROVe (CLARIAH-SEED). 6 AVResearcherXL, TROVe and CoMeRDa are now integrated into the extended research environment Media Suite developed by the Dutch Common Lab Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities ( CLARIAH ).

Sonja de Leeuw studied Dutch Language and Literature and Theatre Studies at Utrecht University and received her PhD at Utrecht University in 1995 with a seminal study into the Dutch television drama in relation to the identity of the Dutch broadcast associations. 7 In 2002, she was appointed Professor of Dutch Television Culture in an International Context at Utrecht University. In her research and teaching, Sonja has covered – next to the areas mentioned above – a diverse range of topics dedicated to dramaturgy, documentary film, media and (Dutch) identity, children and television, and the power of satire. In her non-academic roles – e.g. as Crown Member of the Netherlands Council for Culture, representative for Film (1996-2003) and Chair of the Board for the Promotion Fund of Dutch Cultural Broadcasting Productions (2004-2010) – she advised on cultural productions for Dutch public broadcasters, and on issues related to intercultural art forms, media education, new media, and higher education in the arts.

Since her appointment as full professor, Sonja has dedicated her work particularly to developing transnational and transdisciplinary research projects that intervened in the cultural practice and built bridges to the non-academic professional world. Her longstanding collaboration with Johan Oomen, head of research and development at the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision (Hilversum) has resulted in the series of European and digital humanities projects mentioned earlier. Many more initiatives build further on Sonja’s pioneering contributions to European television and broadcasting history, online access to audiovisual heritage and Digital Humanities research. These include Berber Hagedoorn’s research into how televised history contributes to cultural memory, 8 Alexander Badenoch’s contributions to the HERA collaborative research project Transnational Radio Encounters (TRE), 9 Dana Mustata’s work on socialist television 10 and her current research Everyday Matters: Material Historiographies of Television in Cold War Contexts, or Eggo Müller’s EU-project European History Reloaded, which scrutinizes the online curation and appropriation of digital audiovisual heritage using the latest video tracking technologies. In honour of her contributions to the academic field and beyond, Sonja de Leeuw was appointed Member of Academia Europaea in 2017.

This special issue of VIEW has been guest-edited by her colleagues at Utrecht University and University of Groningen to mark Sonja’s pathbreaking engagement with, and achievements within, the field of digital television heritage. The launch of this issue coincides with the symposium The Many Lives of Europe’s Audiovisual Heritage Online , held at Utrecht University on May 16th, 2018, the day of Sonja’s farewell lecture.

The symposium and this special issue of VIEW have been made possible with funding from DARIAH-EU’s MediaDNA initiative, a collaboration between the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision and the Utrecht Centre for TV/Screen Cultures in Transition . This initiative investigates emerging video tracing and tracking technologies and their potential use in Digital Humanities research to foster the public use of digitized audiovisual material.

The contributions in this issue are written by EUscreen colleagues and other colleagues who have closely collaborated with Sonja on different projects during her career. Articles in the ‘Discoveries’ section showcase archival material and other audiovisual sources as well as new ways of engaging with on- and offline audiovisual sources through the lens of particular events, programmes, or platforms. The contributions in the ‘Exploratory’ section contribute to new perspectives on television and radio historiography and explore novel ways of doing television history.

The Discoveries section, dedicated to Archives and New Ways of Engaging with Audiovisual Heritage , is opened by John Ellis’ archival study ‘Did Grace Kelly Shed a Tear?’ on the coverage of the Monegasque Royal Wedding of Prince Rainier of Monaco and Grace Kelly. In answering the question, whether Grace Kelly did shed a tear, Ellis shows how the coverage exposes the differences between cinema newsreels and live television, and how, even at a public event, television could invade the personal space of its subjects. As Ellis explains, his comparative engagement with the material involved visiting physical archives and finding ways to get access to restricted material that could only be found by combining hints found in on- and offline sources.

Diving into issues of online audiovisual heritage, Eggo Müller’s contribution ‘“Great stuff!”’, discusses the strategies used by the German multi-channel network Mediakraft for curating British Pathé’s YouTube channel. He shows how in the context of YouTube’s commercial ecosystem, Mediakraft’s practices play by the rules of YouTube’s algorithms and therefore have focused on archival material that showcases celebrities, spectacular historical events, and curiosities in order to attract users.

Sticking to discussions on how to engage with, and present research into, online audiovisual material, in ‘Crossing the Theory-Practice Divide: A Multi-Perspective Reflection on a Practical Course for Film and Television Students’, Willemien Sanders, Daniel Everts and Bonnie Van Vught provide a hands-on framework for how to develop video essays and interactive narratives. In so doing, they draw upon classroom examples in which they collaborated as teacher and students, and offer an innovative online navigation experience for the reader.

Frank Kessler’s contribution ‘ Because His Bike Stood There : Visual Documents, Visible Evidence and the Discourse of Documentary’ showcases audiovisual heritage through the lens of documentary footage by the Dutch filmmaker Louis van Gasteren. Zooming into van Gasteren’s production Because My Bike Stood There (1966), Kessler shows how the film is not only an important historical document, but also invites critical reflections on the status of ‘visible evidence’ that is ascribed to documentary footage in general.

Karin van Es and Judith Keilbach’s contribution ‘Keeping Up the Live: Recorded Television as Live Experience’ uses the examples of the German television programme Ein Platz für Tiere and the more recent Netflix Live spoof of 2017 to dissect how liveness has claimed centre-stage in the history of television. Van Es’ and Keilbach’s contribution is a fine example of how engaging with television history today asks of historians to navigate between online and offline audiovisual sources.

The Discovery section ends with Ivo Nieuwenhuis’s contribution on the Dutch satire-show-gone-viral Zondag met Lubach . Nieuwenhuis’ article ‘How Dutch is Zondag met Lubach?’ illustrates the interrelations between regional/local television histories and global histories of the medium. He shows how the Dutch show can be placed within the global tradition of late-night satire, originating in the United States, as well as within the local Dutch tradition of satirical television. His discussion reveals the dominant influence of the American tradition of performing televisual satire, thus contesting the common assumption in television studies that nationhood still plays a central role in the practice of broadcasting.

Jérôme Bourdon’s question ‘Is the End of Television Coming to an End?’ sets the stage for the Exploratory section of this issue, dedicated to ‘Old Stories and New Ways of Doing Media Historiography’. Diving into discourses of the end of television as a ‘bad object’, Bourdon traces the negative intellectual assessments of television back into the earliest days of the medium. He proposes that discourses of television’s end are themselves ending as television turns into an archive fostering nostalgia and bestowing a canonical aesthetic status upon the old medium.

The Exploratory section continues with Alexander Badenoch and Berber Hagedoorn’s contribution that situates the doing of comparative and transnational radio history within online spaces of European television heritage. They show how the EUscreen portal – with its extensive metadata and potential for context – not only furthers the understanding of television’s evolution, but rather of the entire mass-media ensemble. Besides drawing attention to the importance of television as heritage within broader media historiography, Badenoch and Hagedoorn also point to the current limitations of the EUscreen portal for doing such work.

Dana Mustata’s contribution entitled ‘ Failed Interviews”: Doing Television History with Women’ zooms into neglected and marginalized voices in television history, such as those of female television practitioners. Inspired by the work of post-colonial and feminist scholar/filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha, Mustata attempts to ‘speak nearby’ her female interviewees and zooms into the role of female television practitioners as primary sources for television history. By doing so, she unearths the distinctive contributions that feminine professional cultures can make to television history and historiography.

Looking into a different kind of absence in television historiography, Jasmijn van Gorp and Rosita Kiewik’s contribution on ‘What is Not in the Archive’ discusses how to do television history with what is missing from the archives. Drawing upon pedagogical examples used in the classroom, van Gorp and Kiewik show how we can train digital literacy skills and engage with television history in an online environment where unavailability and lack of sources still play a role.

Andreas Fickers, Andy O’Dwyer and Alexandre Germain’s contribution closes this special issue with a visual journey back to the origins of transnational television in Europe. Their video essay entitled ‘On the Road Again: An Experimental Media Archeology Journey to the Origins of Transnational TV in Europe’ documents the trip the authors made to Lille, Cassel, Calais and Dover, locations of the material infrastructures and further traces of transnational television broadcasting in Europe. Their intervention in television historiography illustrates an innovative way of doing experimental media archaeology by engaging with historical sites of television broadcasting.

We hope you enjoy reading this special issue in honour of Sonja de Leeuw’s work!

Alexander Badenoch, Jasmijn van Gorp, Berber Hagedoorn, Judith Keilbach, Eggo Müller and Dana Mustata

Biographies

Alexander Badenoch is the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision Professor of Transnational Media at the Free University of Amsterdam, and Assistant Professor in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Utrecht. He is president of the Studienkreis Rundfunk und Geschichte .

Jasmijn van Gorp is Assistant Professor Television and Digital Heritage at Utrecht University. She is co-chair of the SCMS SIG “Digital Humanities and Videographic Criticism ” and member of the Core Team of CLARIAH’s MediaSuite.

Berber Hagedoorn is Assistant Professor Media Studies at the University of Groningen. She is Vice-Chair of the ECREA Television Studies thematic section.

Judith Keilbach is Assistant Professor of Television Studies at Utrecht University. She is member of the steering committee of the European Network for Cinema and Media Studies (NECS).

Eggo Müller is Professor of Media and Communication at Utrecht University. He is coordinator of the EU-project European History Reloaded: Circulation and Appropriation of Digital Audiovisual Heritage (CADEAH).

Dana Mustata is Assistant Professor in Media and Television Studies at the University of Groningen. She is co-founder of the European (Post)Socialist Television History Network and co-chair of the Media Studies Commission of the International Federation of Television Archives FIAT/IFTA.

REFERENCES

  1. Sonja de Leeuw, ‘European Television History Online: History and Challenges’, Journal of European History and Culture, 1,1, 2012.
  2. Jerome de Groot, Consuming History: Historians and Heritage in Contemporary Popular Culture, Routledge, 2008; Elisa Giaccardi, ed, Heritage and Social Media: Understanding Heritage in a Participatory Culture, Routledge, 2012; Gertraud Koch, ‘Studying Heritage in the Digital Era’, in Marie-Theres Albert, Rolander Bernecker, Britta Rudolff, eds, Understanding Heritage: Perspectives in Heritage Studies, De Gruyter 2013, 169–182; Motti Neiger, Eyal Zandberg, Oren Meyers, eds, On Media Memory: Collective Memory in a New Media Age, Palgrave, 2011.
  3. Andrew Hoskins, iMemory: Why the Past Is All Over, MIT Press, 2015; Maria Economou, ‘Heritage in the Digital Age’, in William Logan, Máiréad Nic Craith, Ullrich Kockel, eds, A Companion to Heritage Studies, Wiley, 2016, 215-228; Laura King, James F. Stark, Paul Cooke, ‘Experiencing the Digital World: The Cultural Value of Digital Engagement with Heritage’, Heritage & Society 9,1, 2016, 76–101.
  4. European Commission, Making Citizenship Work: Fostering European Culture and Diversity through Programmes for Youth, Culture, Audiovisual and Civic Participation, 2004; European Commission, Europe’s Cultural Heritage at the Click of a Mouse: Progress on the Digitisation and Online Accessibility of Cultural Material and Digital Preservation Across the EU, 2008; European Commission, The New Renaissance: Report of the ‘Comité des Sages’ Reflection Group on Bringing Europe’s Cultural Heritage Online, 2012.
  5. Craig Robertson, ‘Introduction: Thinking about Archives, Writing about History’, in Craig Robertson, Media History and the Archive, Routledge, 2011, p.1.
  6. See a.o. Jasmijn Van Gorp, Sonja de Leeuw, Justin van Wees and Bouke Huurnink, ‘Digital Media Archaeology – Digging into the Digital Tool AVResearcherXL’, VIEW: Journal of European Television History and Culture, 4,7, 2015, 38–53.
  7. Sonja de Leeuw, Television Drama: Stage for Identity: A Study of the Relationship Between Identity of Broadcasting Companies and Dutch Television Drama 1969-1988, Otto Cramwinckel, 1995.
  8. Berber Hagedoorn, Doing History, Creating Memory: Representing the Past in Documentary and Archive-Based Television Programmes in a Multi-Platform Landscape, Doctoral dissertation, Utrecht University, 2016.
  9. Golo Föllmer and Alexander Badenoch, Transnationalizing Radio Research: New Approaches to an Old Medium, Transcript, forthcoming.
  10. Dana Mustata, ‘Editorial: Why an Issue on “Television Histories in (Post)Socialist Europe”?’, VIEW, Journal of European Television History and Culture, 3,5, 2014, 1–6.