This award to Documentary Educational Resources (DER) will support a one-day Roundtable on Archiving Ethnographic Films. The meeting will bring together anthropologists, archivists and ethnographic media producers from leading Visual Anthropology programs, and institutions such as the Smithsonian Institution and Library of Congress, to strategize about how ethnographic film archives can best support contemporary research in visual anthropology. Roundtable outcomes include 1) recommendations for the design of Ethnographic Film databases (using the DER collection as a case study) and 2) discussion of frameworks, priorities, and next steps for the preservation and accessibility of ethnographic films. Beginning from a notion of ethnographic film as a cultural product, the Roundtable will assess existing standards for describing anthropological subject matter content, filmmaking practices and genres, and technologies used in the production of film and video recordings. Further discussion, leading to development of a white paper, will address key concerns and priorities for the field related to the preservation and access of both existing collections and new ethnographic media.

The extensive body of films and footage that have been created as part of ethnographic research and teaching constitute a significant record of human cultures and societies. The project will improve access to these materials for individuals ranging from individuals interested in identifying films for teaching, museum exhibitions, film festivals and community screenings. An improved infrastructure for the preservation and accessibility of ethnographic films will help to extend understanding of the anthropological project, of film as a medium of documentation, and of our diverse human heritage. Further, the consideration of archiving practices for film materials understood as texts rather than as recorded data has significance for the broader field of archiving.

Project Report

In May 2013, Documentary Educational Resources (DER) convened a day-long meeting on Ethnographic Film Archiving at the Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology at Harvard University. This meeting brought together researchers, archivists, filmmakers and curators for a two-fold purpose: 1) to field ideas specifically related to the development of an ethnographic film database based on DER’s film catalogue; and 2) to generate a preliminary overview of discipline-wide priorities and concerns regarding the preservation, storage, and access of ethnographic films and videos. Outcomes The Roundtable devoted substantial meeting time to the articulation of metadata fields that attendees agreed were widely applicable to diverse institutions and would be relevant to contemporary scholarship. These fields fall into three main categories: Descriptive (e.g., Film title(s), Dates, Locations, Content Area, Related resources, etc); Technical Criteria (e.g., camera and audio equipment, film and video formats); and Administrative (e.g., Funding and sponsorship information; details about crew, researchers, theoretical paradigm). Additional discussion surfaced challenges and possible solutions for capturing contextual information regarding social and cultural exigencies at the time of filming, as well as the complex backgrounds, levels of expertise and collaboration between researchers, filmmaking crew and subjects. The Roundtable further identified three priority areas for the field: Historical Collections and Relevance; New Online Environments, Image Circulation and Ethics; and the Future of Ethnographic Film. The discussion suggested the need to rethink the value of historical collections, not just as documents for teaching, for posterity or for future anthropological research, but as "living documents" that engage contemporary populations. How might we work across institutions and collections to do this? What kinds of opportunities are there for outreach to inform populations about holdings that document their communities, to engage them in annotation or feedback, and/or to encourage their use of the materials and/or own efforts at documentation? And what role can anthropologists play to ensure that consent agreements and ethical standards are adhered to in the new media environment? DER has produced a White Paper, entitled "Challenges and Opportunities in Ethnographic Film Archiving" summarizing these and other highlights of the discussion. Further, these discussions have informed ongoing work at DER and in the field regarding the preservation and accessibility of ethnographic films. As a result of this meeting, DER has begun development of a template for a film database, as well as development of new subject area categories and search system, aimed at a broad base of users. The new metadata template and search are designed to best ensure that these documents of our human cultural history, related resources and vital contextual information are preserved and accessible for future generations of researchers, educators, museum exhibitors and the general public.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Program Officer
Jeffrey Mantz
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Documentary Educational Resources
United States
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