The professionalization of moving image archives has been accompanied by changes in film studies, which have precipitated a new consciousness not only in media historians but also in the archivists themselves. While the previous generation of film historians perceived film history in a teleological fashion, as a progressive evolution toward film art, the new film historians have been much more interested in contextualizing film and television history in the broader arena of cultural studies and cultural critique. They have attempted to ground film history in an empirical methodology, based on academic conventions of evidence gathering and presentation. No longer is film history a matter of connoisseurship and the analysis of individual examples of film art or the oeuvre of so-called film auteurs; rather, the new historians see film and television as one form of evidence in a historical discourse. While the goal of standard film histories of the past was to establish aesthetic norms of quality for cinema history, the new film history is interested in describing and analyzing the technological, economic, social, political, ethical, and aesthetic development of the medium of film and the institution of cinema. The new methodologies, furthermore, have shifted the focus from a critic's reading of the artifact to a reconstruction of the historical audience's readings and usage of cinema and television.
Such an agenda means that virtually any form of moving image can function as historical evidence, whether fiction feature film or short, documentary or avant-garde film, advertising film or ethnographic film, industrial or medical film, amateur film or newsreel. It also means that the material culture of moving image media has become a much more important factor in the construction of history. The inevitable conclusion for moving image archivists must be that they should neither exclude material from their archives nor actively participate in the judgmental game of deciding what is important and what is not. Finally, it means that a symbiotic relationship now exists between archivists and historians: new academic research leads to the formulation of new preservation priorities. For example, a new sensitivity in the archives to amateur film was brought about by academic research concerned with the cultural value of such material. Conversely, the preservation of materials outside of the classical canon has led to further reevaluation of moving image history. For example, the FIAF Brighton Conference in 1978 led to the creation of a whole new subfield of early cinema studies; previously academics had relegated cinema from the first fifteen years to the arena of the "primitive." Only the continual interplay between archives and academics will lead to increased knowledge of these media that have had such a vital impact on our perceptions of the world.
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