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Digital Archive Projects: Rethinking Media Studies Methodologies

On 18th July 2013, the EUscreenXL project was presented as part of the panel ‘Digital Archive Projects: Rethinking Media Studies Methodologies’ at the 25th International IAMHIST Conference held at the University of Leicester, UK. It was the second time EUscreen was present at the IAMHIST Conference, after the 24th International IAMHIST Conference themed ‘Media History and Cultural Memory’ at Copenhagen University in 2011.

Report by Berber Hagedoorn, MA (Utrecht University)

The International Association for Media and History (IAMHIST) is an organization of filmmakers, broadcasters, archivists and scholars dedicated to historical inquiry into film, radio, television, and related media. IAMHIST encourages scholarly research into the relations between history and the media as well as the production of historically informed documentaries, television series, and other media texts. The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Childhood and the Media’.

The last decade we have witnessed an explosion of available digital databases and archives, and accordingly, the development of different tools to explore these archives in new ways. The panel ‘Digital Archive Projects: Rethinking Media Studies Methodologies’ discussed the possibilities and limitations of tools to explore digitised television, newspaper and radio archives for media scholars and historians. Each paper presented a particular project, its possible use for future research and a specific case study conducted by means of the tools. The panel was chaired by Luke McKernan (British Library, London).

Berber Hagedoorn from Utrecht University presented the EUscreenXL project, which aims to overcome the fragmentation of the audiovisual heritage sector in Europe and to make a growing collection of contextualised audiovisual content accessible and meaningful for diverse types of users, from the general audience, researchers and teachers, to professionals in the creative industries. Hagedoorn paid specific attention to the opportunities and challenges of the project and EUscreen portal for academic research. As a cross-national database of sources, the portal offers access to a range of audiovisual content in different languages, connected to various historical topics. Hagedoorn focused particularly on how the EUscreen portal and the use of European cultural resources lends itself to doing comparative research on the coverage of particular topics and genres across countries in Europe.

Martijn Kleppe from Erasmus University Rotterdam discussed the PoliMedia project, which showcases the potential of cross-media analysis by linking digitised transcriptions of debates at the Dutch Parliament with newspapers, radio bulletins, newscasts and current affairs programmes. Kleppe explained the workings of the PoliMedia portal and its possible future use for media scholars, discussing how the portal will allow researchers to browse for debates or names of politicians and analyse related media coverage, as well as evaluating debates in which politicians appeared and how they were covered in the press. As Kleppe pointed out, an advantage of the PoliMedia project is that the coverage in the media is incorporated in its original form, enabling analyses of the mark-up of news articles, newspaper photos, and televised programme footage.

Jasmijn van Gorp from Utrecht University presented the project BRIDGE: Building Rich Links to Enable Television History, in which she zoomed in on two tools developed by this project for exploration and contextualisation. MeRDES (Media Researchers’ Data Exploration Suite) enables comparative analysis between two individual items from the television catalogue of the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision archives, through visualisations such as word clouds and timelines. Secondly, CoMeRDA (Contextualising Media Researchers’ Data) links different collections, including television programmes, national newspapers and television-related photographs, and enables simultaneous search across these collections. Van Gorp demonstrated how the discussed tools ‘bridge’ or build links between heterogeneous collections, therefore allowing media researchers, historians, and digital humanists to explore, analyse and compare (elements of) Dutch television history.

The discussion session highlighted the necessity of translation, in particular for transnational or European-wide archival projects. This is especially the case for EUscreenXL which, as an audiovisual online archive, is also more dependent on its metadata to allow researchers to explore the archive for relevant content. Translation and subtitling will therefore not only aid in the usability of the audiovisual content, but in improving the searchability of the EUscreen portal, too.

All presentations touched upon how analysing media coverage across several types of media forms or outlets is a challenging task for researchers. New digital tools to explore archives therefore allow researchers to study more and new sources as well as generating novel research questions. The panel enabled a fruitful dialogue with media scholars and historians, emphasizing the relevance for scholars in the Humanities to further engage in digital archival projects.