‘The Historian and the Home Movie’ film – Blog 5

In MACE’s blog this week we take a look at the film ‘The Historian and the Home Movie’ produced for us by Electric Egg.

The 25 minute film has been made available for free as a DVD to subscribers of this month’s History Today magazine in. The DVD can also be made available to academics, researchers, teachers and other educational and research organisations. See the end of this post for details.
This 5 part blog will focus on extracts from the film which highlights some of the material found in MACE’s Heritage Lottery Funded film search project, Full Circle, and explores how home movies and amateur films can be used by academics as important historical ‘documents’.

The Historian and the Home Movie – Clip 5
Historians share their views on the home movie as a historic record

In this clip, broadcaster & historian Taylor Downing, Krista Cowman, Professor of History at the University of Lincoln and Simon Gunn, Professor of Urban History at the University of Leicester, share their views on home movies as a historical record.

In this clip Professor Gunn says, “In a sense one of the things that I’m interested in, in film particularly, is looking at how people behave in every day circumstances. What they think is normal behaviour – what is clearly normal behaviour in their view – and how those kinds of behaviours change. Now one of the great things about film that’s different from even photography is you can look at process. You can look at how people behave, how they move, their gestures and so on, over obviously short periods of time, but you can see that. No other source really shows you that in that way, so that it begins to open up a view on those aspects of the past that I think really intrigue us, which are about everyday life, about the normal, the routine, but are also very hard to get at”.

Professor Cowman says: “Social historians certainly would be delighted to accept them because in many ways they have as much if not more credibility. All sources have different purposes and different uses and one of the great values of home movies is that they not intended to be polished, public performances they often are just a sort of serendipitous record of a slice of life. Some of them are more crafted than others but one of the great things about home movies is that you get the kind of accidental insights if you like. You see inside people’s homes, you see people’s usual clothes, you see the street furniture and the streets that people live in, the things that other films might not necessarily focus on because they might be considered less important.”

Taylor Downing says”: I think historians have traditionally had a difficulty with visual sources, they don’t quite know how to approach them. That’s changing now, it’s changing a lot but I think there’s still a sense maybe among some historians that audio-visual sources, wherever they come and from, whoever shot them are somehow slightly untrustworthy, slightly complex – that somebody shot something, they have selected this material, and that somebody’s edited it into something else therefore we don’t quite know how accurate or authentic this is. I would say that historians struggle with these sorts of issues with conventional manuscript sources all the time, you never believe a source, you never believe a dairy, you never believe implicitly what’s said in an official record or a private record. Historians are critical about the sources they look at and I think in order to properly understand what a piece of film tells us one needs to be critical about how the film was made and why it was made and who it was made for and you need to understand these things. But I think historians shouldn’t imagine that somehow written sources are reliable and honest and truthful whereas film sources aren’t. That absolutely isn’t the case. You just bring the same critical apparatus that you apply day to day as a historian in looking at conventional sources to film sources”.

Professor Gunn adds, “Historians generally speaking like material that’s unedited because the things that you want to do with that material are always different from the person who actually put the material together. But I think there’s value to both. In a sense most film is edited. People rarely just show you rushes of things. And home films are in a sense no different. They’re edited. They’re thought about in terms of how they’re constructed, the picture they want give you, the story they want to tell. And that construction is itself as valuable potentially as the images itself”.

Obtaining a copy of The Historian and the Home Movie for Research

If you are an academic, teacher or researcher and would like a free copy of the DVD, please email info@macearchive.org or telephone 01522 837750. As we only have a small number of DVDs available, please advise us of your profession and the organisation you represent when you contact us.

DVDs are free, although a contribution towards postage would be appreciated. P&P is usually £1.50.

MACE is a registered charity and registered with Just Giving. A donation towards our on-going work would be appreciated. Visit http://www.justgiving.com/mediaarchiveceltd/donate to see our Just Giving page and make a donation.

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