Curiouser and Curiouser...

My Adventures in blogging, digital and Public History

Saturday, November 04, 2006

"Just Watch Me": Digital Moving Images and Historical Research

Digital Moving Images are a great resource for historical research. They often allow a researcher to see, hear and almost feel the action which has been recorded. Of course, as with any historical evidence, the researcher must be critical in her approach to understanding and utilizing the sources. I looked at four sites which provide digital moving images and each provided me with a little more understanding of the positives in using this type of resource as well as underlining some of the drawbacks.

The CBC Archives had a great combination of T.V. and radio stuff. There are some great clips of Tommy Douglas giving speeches and many examples of the well known footage from The October Crisis. The clips were easy to find - you just typed in the Keyword or term in the Search Box and you ended up with a pretty nice selection of moving images.

The BBC Motion Gallery had many clips but it was somewhat difficult to find what I wanted because the internal search didn’t always come up the what I wanted. For instance when I typed in World Cup Soccer or Football I ended up getting clips of the F.A. Cup final and various other competitions. However, this ‘detour’ led me to a really sweet clip of an over-exuberant fan storming the field after a goal.

Hurray for the Prelinger Archive and their dedication to the Creative Commons. This site is dedicated to archiving moving images which include advertising, educational, industrial and amateur film. There is a lot of off-beat and unique pop-culture material here. I even found a video documenting a day at the beauty parlour circa 1941! Great for my research on the Permanent Wave Machine. The best part about the items found at Prelinger is that they are under a Creative Commons license so there are no pesky copywrite concerns to worry about.

The American Memory project at the Library of Congress has collections ranging from Presidential Inauguration Speeches to Coca-Cola advertising to Vaudeville Stage Shows. The great thing about his collection is that there are also written descriptions and some great stills which supplement the moving images. Access to these materials is for educational and research purposes and there are some copywrite restrictions.

Some of the problems I can foresee when working with digital images are not very different from those encountered when working with other images; you have to be conscious of copywrite. How can you, the researcher, use the footage? Is it in the public domain or would it cost a small fortune to get the rights to use it?

Even though the moving images are digitized, there are concerns over quality of the visual image. The older footage such as some of the Vaudeville acts and the soccer match had a grainy quality which made it difficult to see the content. I would expect that in some research this may pose some problems because the images may be misinterpreted or a researcher could miss key information for which she was looking. This could also happen as some of the older footage does not contain an audio component which contextualises the visual image.

On the other hand, you could also avoid the bias of personal opinion or slant of the creator by not having the audio component. It would be up to the researcher to provide narrative and context.

The loading time for some clips was very slow. This probably isn’t too much a of a concern when it comes to research, but it was slightly annoying. Once loaded, the clips moved along at real time speed which is great for overall impression but I had to stop and re-play many of them to get the detail I was looking for. This could be very time-consuming for a researcher who had to go through many different clips to find what she was looking for.

The upside - there are innumerable strange and wonderful little clips such as the square-dancing cigarettes from the Lucky Strike cigarette commercial( not very P.C. but hilarious!) and some fantastic footage many of the key events and individuals which have shaped history. Not to mention a few crazy soccer fans...


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