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Conference Notes: Content in Motion | Curating Europe’s Audiovisual Heritage: Session 2

Copyright: National Library of Sweden

Opening & Session 1 | Session 2 | Session 3 | Session 4 | Session 5 & Closing Keynote

The second session of our #EUscreen15 conference, “Context for Curation”, included talks from Casey E. Davis on The American Archive of Public Broadcasting’s digitization process, James Davis on Google Cultural Institute’s new Performing Arts project, and John Ellis’ research project which explores how TV footage was originally created. The session was opened and moderated by Rob Turnock from Royal Holloway University of London.

A Curator’s 40,000 Hour Dream | Casey E. Davis

Casey E. Davis (@caseyedavis1) is Project Manager at WGBH in Boston. She currently manages a number of AAPB projects. Upon the digitization of 40,000 hours of material from 100 public media stations, Casey oversaw the development of the AAPB digital archive ( and curated Climate Change Conversations: Causes, Impacts, Solutions. Prior to joining the AAPB team, Casey worked on digital projects for PBS’ flagship history documentary series, American Experience, and received her MLIS from Louisiana State University. Casey is also a founder of ProjectARCC ( and serves as archivist for DearTomorrow ( Photo by Sebastiaan Ter Burg / CC BY-SA.

Davis opened her talk by explaining that The American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB) is a collection of radio and TV materials created by or for public TV and radio in the US which has completed the digitization of 40,000 hours of historic radio and television programming. This has resulted in an unprecedented and historic collection of American public radio and television content available today to the public. The project which Davis is involved in is a collaboration between the Library of Congress and WGBH.

Davis offered an account of how they made this significant historic content available and how they sought to engage the public with the material and explained how the Library of Congress will oversee the long term preservation of the digital files.

The AAPB website launched initially in April 2015 and Davis explained that the overall goal of the website is to create a visually appealing platform for access, ensuring that it is easy for all types of users to find what they are looking for. The 120 participating stations were asked to inventory their collections as a quick glance at what existed. There were at least 2.5 million items that stations had retained. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) then funded a large digitization project and stations that participated in the inventory had the opportunity to choose items to be digitized.

The initial collection now comprises 40,000 hours of content from around organizations. In 2013 CPB chose the collaboration between the Library of Congress and WGBH to be the future stewards of the Archive. AAPB’s vision is to coordinate a national effort to preserve and make accessible these historic materials before they are lost. In addition to preserving, Davis wants to assure discoverability and access; to guide and support current content creators and stewards of the materials with best practices to protect this historic programming; to facilitate the use of the materials and increase public awareness of its importance; and to be able to sustain these goals into the future.

To achieve their goals of providing engaging materials to users, Davis detailed how AAPB is actively involved in curation. So far three exhibits featuring content of topical and historical significance have been created including one on civil rights. Each exhibit features a narrative, sections, selected audio and video, and external resources. AAPB interns are currently curating additional exhibits which will launch later this year, including one on presidential campaigns, and children’s educational programming.

The EUscreen Network has started a close collaboration with The American Archive of Public Broadcasting and we are now working on creating a joint collection with content coming from both European and American providers.

Preserving Performance | James Davis

James Davis (@jmkd) is Program Manager for the Google Cultural Institute, bringing culture to people through technology. He oversees international partnerships, manages special projects and develops educational strategy. Prior to this he curated at The Tate in London, building the new user-oriented online collection and delivering award-winning interactive interpretation for the galleries at Tate Britain. Photo by Sebastiaan Ter Burg / CC BY-SA.

James Davis presented Google Cultural Institute’s new Performing Arts project. Google’s Performing Arts webpage will let users experience cultural performances and experiences in full 3D, as if they were on stage with the performers. In order to make this happen, they have engaged in collaborations with cultural institutions around the world, offering their expertise and technology in exchange for cultural content.

Davis explained how the material made available through the Performing Arts project will allow people to engage with cultural items from all around the world in new and exciting ways, hopefully increasing the visibility of their partner institutions while simultaneously allowing more people to enjoy their content.

The project features over sixty leading art and culture experiences from twenty countries, along with over 150 interactive collections which together comprise some 8,000 photographs, videos and other documents. To illustrate their approach, Davis demonstrated how the technology offered by Google can be combined with cultural experiences, in this case to offer an orchestral performance at Carnegie Hall which allows the viewer to enjoy the performance from a range of different perspectives.
Davis also mentioned how the platform will keep evolving, drawing on Google’s technological advancements and incorporating new technology as it emerges, such as new Virtual Reality experiences through Google Cardboard.

How Footage Was Originally Created | John Ellis

John Ellis (@ProfJohnEllis) is Professor of Media Arts at Royal Holloway University London. He leads the ADAPT project and is also chair of Learning on Screen (formerly BUFVC). He is an editor of VIEW Journal of European television history and culture and his publications include Visible Fictions (1982), Seeing Things (2000) and Documentary: Witness and Self-revelation (2012). Photo by Sebastiaan Ter Burg / CC BY-SA.

John Ellis began his talk by posing the question ‘when we look at archival TV, do we know how it was made?’ This question is at the centre of his current research project which explores, captures and recreates the techniques of television broadcast recording from different periods.

Ellis suggested that in order to fully understand audio visual material from earlier periods – and the reasons behind the choices made in regards to editing, pacing, lighting, and more – it is essential to know the methods and limitations of the content’s production. he argued that as technology changes, so does the ways we watch and create AV content. The preservation of methods may prove to be as important to historians as the content itself. Physical holdings give us clues while digital holdings do not, and the preservation of this information goes hand in hand with the preservation of the content in the digitization process.

As Ellis remarked; old television looks “weird and strange” not only because of “the materiality of film” but because of the materiality of the production process. Thus, archival television has to be contextualised if it is to come alive and to be used. And to contextualise, we need information about how it was made. Ideally, according to Ellis, this information should be in an audiovisual form as well as written metadata form.

The ADAPT research project, funded by European Research Council, is creating resources to help archives to provide this information. This important work of creating ‘simulations’ is done by reuniting retired technicians with the old technologies they used every day to make ‘ordinary TV’, and filming the process. Ellis showed several clips from this work, giving the audience interesting insights into how TV used to be made and how such material can better inform our understanding of past practices of production.

Ellis ended his presentation by drawing attention to the forthcoming Hands on History Conference, and challenged the audience to think about the material that was being generated and to ask:

Will this be useful to you?
How would you like it edited?
Would you like to have access to the rushes with a Creative Commons licence?
What other typical equipment should we film?

These three papers all explored how we can use audiovisual material and how we can experiment with different methods in order to make it more appealing and engaging to a range of users. Both John Ellis and James Davis highlighted the importance of technology as a key part of this practice, while Casey Davis reminded the audience that a key way to engage with users was to make the content relevant, for example by focusing on current affairs or topics of interest.