'Televising History: memory, nation, identity' conference

Available abstracts (alphabetical order)

Vin Arthey, University of Teesside: Triggered by TV: Hunting the KGB colonel William Fisher

Although it was confirmed in 1983 that the real name of the Soviet spy Rudolf Ivanovich Abel (the man exchanged in 1962 for the U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers) was William Fisher, and that he was a British subject, born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1903, little was known of his life and work. A TyneTees regional television programme in 1996 revealed more but, bound by budgetary and audience considerations, television turned out to be an inadequate and indeed antagonistic medium in which to explore the history of spies and spying.

This paper shows how the questions raised by the programme were followed up, and takes a methodological perspective on the study of a KGB professional much of whose work was undertaken within living memory. It argues that of necessity, such a study must be inter-disciplinary and examines terms such as “sources” “evidence” and “interrogation” as used by intelligence professionals and security services and as used in historical research, investigative journalism, police work and fraud management.  It closes by suggesting that although the study of espionage and intelligence is exciting and essential, the very nature of the field requires that any conclusions must always be questioned.

Wolter Braamhorst, University of Rotterdam: The Wonderful World of History Television

Television is still the medium that generates the largest audience for historical subjects. You may write a critically acclaimed book or do very well on local radio, but nothing beats TV. But do TV executives and historians speak the same language? Do they even want the same thing? What kind of history programme gets made and why? How much are we willing to change history to make it more appealing to a large general audience? How much is anybody willing to add or take out to reach those elusive anonymous viewers? How far can you go without losing integrity? Or are television and ethics mutually exclusive? And on a more practical side: how much does it really cost to make a history programme? Does anybody get rich in the process? And then, when all is said and done, where will it be broadcast? And is the same programme suitable for all viewers everywhere? Get the inside story on the wonderful world of history television.

Lin Feng, University of Nottingham: The Birth of a TV Star: Chow Yun-fat, Typecasting and Hong Kong modern xiaosheng  For Lin Feng's review of the conference, see http://www.scope.nottingham.ac.uk issue 9 (October 2007)

During the early period of Hong Kong TV history, the majority of programmes were imported from foreign countries, such as the United States, Japan and Britain; only a few locally-produced programmes starred or were hosted by actors from the Cantonese film industry or the traditional Cantonese Opera theatre. However, the fast growing economy, urbanisation and modernisation quickly changed public tastes in media content- national glory and individual heroic behaviour were no longer a key concern in 1970s Hong Kong TV programmes. Instead, local audiences started to show their preferences for stories about a man striving to raise his social class. To meet the public demand for local programmes and compete with each other, Hong Kong TV studios, in addition to recruiting Cantonese filmmakers and theatre opera actors, started to expand its production of TV drama and organized its own acting classes to secure the talent resources for the production of its own programmes.

One of the studio-trained actors, Chow Yun-fat, spent nearly fourteen years in the industry before he completely moved his career to the film industry. Promoting Chow as a typical xiaosheng, [‘Sheng’, ‘Dan’, ‘Jing’, ‘Mo’ and ‘Chou’ refer to types of characters in traditional Chinese opera; xiaosheng refers to a young man who is usually good looking and often has a romance with huadan, the young female character], TVB (Television Broadcast Ltd.) frequently mentioned and emphasized Chow’s appearance and heterosexual attraction. In this paper, I argue that while Chow’s TV stardom was well controlled by the studio’s star system, his image as a romantic urban young man was also a result of the negotiation between the Hong Kong audience’s perception of local social changes, and the studio’s conventional typecasting practice.

Francisca Fuentes, University of Nottingham: RFK Funeral Train: The Cultural Life of a Memory Text

Following his assassination, Senator Robert Francis Kennedy’s body was flown to New York and subsequently taken to Washington, DC by train for burial at Arlington Cemetery.  Like President Kennedy and Martin Luther King before him, RFK’s funeral attracted national media attention. Millions across the nation watched the all day live broadcast on television. Paul Fusco, a staff photographer for Look magazine, spent the 8-hour train ride photographing the crowds of people who lined the railway tracks to watch the train as it passed.  Five of the images were published in a Look RFK memorial issue in 1968.  52 of the images reappeared in 2000 in a Magnum publications book and accompanying exhibition titled RFK Funeral Train.

My paper contextualises RFK Funeral Train within discourses of mourning and memory in the 1960s, using Joseph Roach’s work on the performance of mourning rituals to question the role of national funerals as sites of renegotiation of American cultural memory.  I trace the contemporaneous circulation of Fusco's images, and outline the cultural life of the collection as a memory text – focusing on how memories of Robert Kennedy’s death, and of the 1960s, were articulated in the 1990s and 2000s.

Enrique Guerrero, University of Navarro, Spain: The Beginnings of TV Production in Spain: How did TVE Learn to Make Entertainment?

In October 2006, Spanish television commemorated its 50th anniversary. During its first half century, the TV industry has undergone a significant development, changing from a situation of monopoly of the public network – Televisión Española (TVE) – to the current scenario of market competition. Nevertheless, despite great changes occurring during the last decade, the first twenty years (1956-75) were decisive for establishing the first TV production standards.

In this period, marked by the context of dictatorship, TVE developed a regular production system, very much focused on entertainment programmes from the very beginning. Some of the most relevant aspects that helped to standardise the production of TV shows in Spain were: the technological development (videotape recorder, satellite, colour); the growth and expansion of television (coverage, broadcasting time, audience, revenues, available technical resources such as TV sets, the birth of new networks); and the centralization of production activity. This paper aims at explaining how the first production standards were achieved and how they were taken as reference points from then on.

Amy Holdsworth, University of Warwick: Television Resurrections: Television, Memory and the Museum

Andreas Huyssen has written that the museum is a ‘site of possible resurrections’. Both television in the museum and the idea of television as museum allow us to examine some of the ways in which past television is recontextualised or resurrected within contemporary culture and how this impacts on the construction of our television heritage.

The television exhibitions at the National Media Museum in Bradford, West Yorkshire (formally the National Museum of Photography Film and Television) aim to tell the ‘story of TV’ within Britain and an interrogation of these galleries forms the central concern of this paper. However, I also wish to address the idea of television as museum through some examples of nostalgia programming on recent British television. I hope to attend to the following questions: What is the ‘story of TV’ and how is it being told? How do these exhibitions and programmes employ both individual and wider cultural memory? What cultural desire (or industrial concern) is expressed in the memorialisation of past television and our relationship to it? 

Andrew Hoskins, University of Warwick: Ghost in the Machine: Television, War and Memory

It is not a coincidence that the memory boom of late modern societies is that which fills television:  namely conflict, catastrophe, and warfare. The past quarter of a century is marked by an extraordinary convergence of a new more immediate, proximate, and visual media coverage of current and ongoing conflict, with a wholesale marking, commemorating, and commodifying of past wars and catastrophes.

What prospects are there for the ‘new memory’ of past wars that are being effectively re-assembled and re-appraised through the extensive contemporary media network of today?  There appears limitless appetite for the documentation of the past through television and film dramatisation, commemoration through historical ‘markers’ (e.g. monuments and anniversaries), and through a growing heritage and museum culture.

This paper explores the new memory of warfare as evident in two key ways: Firstly, the rapid consumption and re-consumption of past events, commemorated almost to oblivion, and, secondly, a pre-emption of history-in-the-making, as conflict and catastrophe are tracked by the second through highly-portable and ubiquitous audio-visual recording and broadcast technologies that define our media age. 

Emily Keightley, Nottingham Trent University: Memory and method: exploring memory as a research tool and as a research topic

Research into and research using memory has been rapidly gaining momentum in media and cultural studies in the last decade.  This rise in popularity must be accompanied by a reflexive methodological consideration of memory and its role in media and cultural studies research. The aim of this paper is to consider memory both as a topic of research and as research tool. Central to this is an assessment of the movements between public and private memory; the ways in which they diverge and the ways in which they inform each other. As both topic and tool, research on memory attends to the social relations of the interaction between individual and public forms of memory, whether these involve family photograph albums, commemoration practices or popular festivals. It is also necessary to recognise that uncritical celebrations of memory as a research tool can be problematic. In order to ensure its validity, mnemonic data must be checked according the principles of triangulation central to empirical research. Using examples drawn from my own research and that of others, the paper will chart the practical and theoretical issues at stake in using memory in media and cultural research.

Jean Macintyre and Victoria Blyth, Bishop Grosseteste University College, Lincoln: Engaging with the Past: The Preconceptions and Conceptions of the Community

In 2005 the Heritage department at Bishop Grosseteste University College Lincoln began a research project about the historical understanding of their students. The BA in Heritage Studies includes a diverse range of modules covering art history, landscape history, archaeology and architectural history each of which represents the passing of time in a distinct way. The team were interested in how their students:

This research has now been expanded to focus on the area of family history. Family and community history has gained in popularity.

·         There are currently 77 local groups in Lincolnshire with an interest in Heritage.

 The project team have undertaken a questionnaire to ascertain

This questionnaire has been trialled don the student body and will now be extended to different community groups. There are also plans to extend the research to people who do not undertake family history to find out why.

Sarah Moody, University of Lincoln: The Englishness of Robin Hood: British identity in the history classroom

The ways in which history is taught and whose history should be taught in schools are matters of debate in the press and in politics and are a source of tension in schools themselves. Issues of identity are being developed across the curriculum in order to include all pupils and to “promote pupils’ understandings of themselves and their culture.” Indeed the study of history and citizenship are becoming linked in many schools across the UK in order for pupils to not only understand past cultures and civilisations but to be better informed of how this influences their own society, and to appreciate how history is as much about the biographies of individuals as it is about the impact of events on collective identities. The ways in which resources such as TV documentaries are used in the classroom, and the fact that many teachers use fictional film over documentary as way of engaging pupils’ interest in a history topic opens up a dialogue of how history education is presented to pupils and what historical sources are more relevant and more successful in achieving learning objectives. Robin Hood is a topic examined in schools as either historical fact or literary folklore, or as both as a means of sifting through evidence to argue a point of view. The continual representations of Robin Hood that have shaped the myth, particularly in the nineteenth century, as English national hero been articulated many times over in film and TV and this paper uses examples of both fiction and documentary as well as the comments of history teachers in the UK and abroad to suggest ways in which Britishness, or rather Englishness, is being examined in the history classroom.

Angela Piccini, University of Bristol: The stuff of dreams: archaeology, audience and becoming material

In 2006, I produced a baseline data report for English Heritage and the Council for British Archaeology on the numbers, social class, gender and ethnicity of televisual archaeology audiences. The research was commissioned in order to provide a comparison with ongoing demographic research into visitor numbers for museums and historic and ancient monuments.

The seeming popularity of antiques and ‘ancient civilizations’ programmes - particularly those in docu-drama form - supports recent claims that viewers are drawn towards content that provides the ‘affect’ of excitement and the ‘spectacular’. Audience figures for programmes addressing questions of the local – e.g., Coast (BBC2) and The Lost World of Friese-Greene (BBC2) - indicate the impact of the ‘power of place’. Yet, the commissioned research did not address the more interesting and intellectually pressing questions around audiences.

There is little sense of how archaeological television circulates through our everyday lives or how specific, material factors shape the affective power of television archaeologies. In short, how are audiences also users of these screened archaeologies? As more programmes launch online manifestations – automatic SMS messaging along coastal walks as part of Coast; the hugely popular Time Team internet forum – we find new opportunities for understanding how screen-based archaeologies are at the heart of active community building and social experience.

Francis Reid, University of Lincoln: What can historians learn from history on TV?

Drawing upon historical research relating to nineteenth-century science in New Zealand and interwar political activism in Britain, I argue that academic history is little different from TV history, and the real question is whether it is possible or sensible for the historian to attempt to combine a strong and compelling narrative with rigorous historical analysis. Indeed, we need to ask ourselves what exactly is rigorous historical analysis?

If the things that some historians find distasteful about TV history also apply to scholarship generally, then historians need to consider whether what they are currently doing should be modified or whether what they find distasteful is actually intellectually acceptable or a necessary evil. Whatever historians decide in relation to their ideal methodology, I argue that historians need to continue to engage with popular history programming rather than to imagine that it is unrelated to real and reputable research.

Barbara Sadler, University of Lincoln: Grundy’s Northern Pride: Constructing ‘the North’ on ITV1

ITV1 regions produce a range of history output specifically relating the past to geographical place and regional identity. Using one particular regional programme, Grundy’s Northern Pride, it is the intention to demonstrate the fluctuating nature of the ITV1 regions and consequently, how we end up with the type of programme output that is delivered. The boundaries of the eleven ITV1 regions are quite clearly defined on maps shown on the ITV websites. However, this apparent clarity obscures the arbitrary nature of the boundaries. The differences in editorial region and transmission area have implications on whether or not the programmes delivered match the cultural identity of the viewers in the various locales. Using the text these differences will be examined. An important part of ITV’s current PSB remit requires the production of programming specific to regions. However, there are implications for the ITV1 regions as a direct result of digital switchover. Grundy’s Northern Pride offers unique insights into how the regions may be developed in future.

Ross Wilson, University of York: The Western Front on Television: History and Popular Memory

The image of the Western Front of filthy, mud-filled trenches, manned by disillusioned soldiers is one which still haunts the collective memory in Britain. Historians have recently begun a concerted effort to revise this ingrained perception by highlighting the invented nature of this popular memory. These attempts at revision have involved locating the ‘myths and memory’ of the war in the representations of the battlefields on television. In doing so this work has often utilised an implicit and often explicit assumption that the public are ‘passive dupes’ in the consumption of television programmes. Historians have lamented television series such as Blackadder as providing inaccurate impressions of the battlefields which are vapidly consumed by a credulous public. This paper takes an alternative approach to this study by examining how the memory of the trenches of the Western Front in Britain is a cultural choice. By examining the television representation of the battlefields this paper will forward how the trenches form an empowering memory in Britain. Drawing upon notions of vicarious victim-hood and trauma it will address why the trenches have remained so pervasive, and why this memory still influences contemporary social, cultural and political debates.

Conference programme

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