Digitised archives of newspapers and movie magazines solve access problems to a vast range of microfilm and print resources, many unavailable except in remote archives. They also enable text searching, hyperlinking, and data mining, processes well suited to the brute computational power of the microprocessor. They aid conventional research methodologies and enable new approaches to understanding film history and its published paratexts. However, more material does not necessarily result in better comprehension, as Richard Abel has explained eloquently. Improved availability of resource risks information overload, a concern Richard Yeo notes troubled Robert Hooke and John Locke already in the 17th century.
In his 1945 article “As We May Think,” Vannevar Bush, head of the US Office of Scientific Research and Development, addressed this problem. He hypothesised a desk-sized workstation, the memex, loaded with microfilmed documents. Users could permanently link any document to any other document, append notes, and retrieve these documents quickly. Recording the user’s conceptual associations, the memex was a mechanical extension of the mind, not the library. The links cluster around the user’s concepts rather than locate a maze of documents of varying relevance through conventional indexing, an experience also commonly the result of keyword searches and static, authorial hyperlinks.
More recently, James Cimino, Peter Elkin, and Octo Barnett, inspired by Bush, proposed a shareable digital hypertext format for medical usage called “Concept Space.” This idea organises text links under a conceptual framework to reduce information overload and disorientation. Research in digital film history archives could benefit from a similar approach. For instance, unorthodox exhibition sites and significant graphic layouts in papers and magazines may elude keywords searches but reward browsing. Once located, these research sources can be collated within shareable conceptual frames. Such frames are fundamentally methodological and make visible how we may think about film history.
Sellors, C. P. (2015, November). As We May Think about Film History. Paper presented at Turning the Page Conference, Ghent University