She will be missed: Christine Whittaker, 1942-2017

 

It is with great sadness that I must on behalf of the IAMHIST Council tell members that our friend and former president Christine Whittaker has died. Christine was a long-term member of IAMHIST who served as president from 2001 to 2004.  She brought much to our organization as one of the most prominent members with a background in practice rather than academia. 

Christine – née Smith — was born on 22 December 1942 in the Northumberland town of Corbridge, on Hadrian’s Wall.  She was educated at the University of Leeds where she read French and German.  Her initial hope was to work for the Foreign Office as a translator, but when they turned her down she went to work for the BBC.  Her first job was at the BBC World Service with a unit broadcasting in French to Canada.  She moved within the corporation to the current affairs outfit based at Lime Grove where she worked on a program called 24 Hours, but it was when she moved to a third post at the feature/documentary unit at Kensington House.  Her projects included a series of helicopter-films called Bird’s-Eye View (1969-1971) some episodes of which were written and narrated by the great English poet Sir John Betjeman, with whom Christine enjoyed working.  Others working on the series included two crazy Polish pilots, the distinguished producer/director Edward Mirzoeff and a cameraman named Graham Whittaker whom she married in 1972.  Christine and Mirzoeff worked together with Betjeman on two more films – Metro-Land (1973) and A Passion For Churches (1974), both of which are now considered classics. While at Kensington House Christine found her forte.  Her tasks included researching a series of short films about major events in World War Two including the attack on the Tirpitz and the Norwegian resistance raid on the Nazi Heavy Water Plant all of which required her to locate archive film to illustrate the story.  The process of finding historical film became her great professional passion and she became very good at it.  In due course Christine received full credit as ‘producer (archives)’ in a string of major BBC projects.  Her CV included some of the gems of television history including a history of work called All our Working Lives (1984), the path-breaking history of women’s experience in the twentieth century Out of the Dolls House (1988) of which she was especially proud and the Emmy-award winning The People’s Century, (1995-97).  Her work was often featured in the Timewatch strand of historical documentaries which ran for many years on BBC 2.  She was much admired by her colleagues in the television industry and by those who provided the film she used.  In 2006 she was honored with a lifetime achievement award by FOCAL (the Federation of Commercial Audio Visual Libraries).

At IAMHIST Christine provided leadership during a time of change.  She was kind and generous with her help to younger scholars and practitioners alike as a regular participant in master classes and she worked hard to maintain the presence of top-level practitioners at IAMHIST conferences.  She was saddened by the changes in historical television and the decline of the in-house production teams of which she’d been part, and often shared a sense that she had been fortunate to be part of a golden age at the BBC.  Christine took a great interest in the wider lives of her IAMHIST colleagues and always enjoyed meeting their families and children.  Christine had two children, Georgina and Jack, and in recent years became a grandmother also.  Her final years were marked by a struggle first with Parkinson’s Disease and then with cancer; she died of complications arising from these conditions with her family close by on 16 August.  She will be much missed and our thoughts go out to Graham, Georgina, Jack and all her family at this sad time.  Colleagues who wish to mark her passing might consider donating in her name to the Meadow House Hospice [link], who took care of her during her final weeks.  The hospice mailing address is Macmillan Nursing, Meadow House Hospice, Uxbridge Road, Southall, Middlesex, UB1 3HW.

Nick Cull

President, IAMHIST.

Karel Dibbets (1947-2017) will also be missed – a sad year

It is with great sadness that we have to inform of yet another great loss, the passing away on May 28th of our dear friend, colleague and former teacher Karel Dibbets (1947-2017). Karel was one of the initiators of what to some still may ring a bell: Dutch IAMHIST, what would become the Dutch Association for History, Image and Sound. Together with Bert Hogenkamp and many others he organized the XV IAMHIST conference in Amsterdam in 1993 and published the proceedings with the corresponding title Film and the First World War in 1994. Probably most known, however, Karel is for his work on the pioneering database and encyclopedia Cinema Context.

“Professional expertise: Asparagus with salmon” was the first thing I learned about Karel from his profile page, after I had enrolled for a course about Dutch film culture that he was teaching at the University of Amsterdam. It didn’t tell me much about him back then, but it tells a lot about as I have gotten to know him over the past one and a half decades: bon vivant, witty, modest. He enjoyed great food, fine art, music and gezelligheid as much as he enjoyed his work.

Many of us remember Karel as a dedicated and visionary scholar and historian. In 1971, he graduated at the film academy, but soon turned to the University of Amsterdam to study Economic and social history. This step in fact marked the beginning of a long academic career at the University of Amsterdam – a career that, as Karel himself joked about upon his early retirement in 2011, did not exactly follow the standard path. He graduated in Economic and social history 1982, helped establishing a new department for Film- and TV studies, obtained his PhD in 1993, and would keep his position as assistant professor until his retirement.

Karel was never satisfied with superficial answers (and questions), he loved to engage in critical discussions and his sharp-sighted questions and remarks were thought-provoking and inspiring. For Karel, history was not one-dimensional, but complex, and it was the historian’s task to unravel this complexity. At the end of the 1970s, when Karel was a student, he performed a complex analysis of chain formation in the Dutch cinema sector, the type of analysis that we now commonly refer to as social network analysis. Yet the innovative aspect of this study also lay in the way it was carried out: long before the term digital had entered the standard vocabulary of humanists and historians, Karel used to punch cards and computational calculation to deal with the enormous datasets he had created and to solve (at least part of) his questions. The resulting thesis from 1980 “Cinema chains in the Netherlands: economic concentration and geographical expansion of an industry, 1928 – 1977” (in Dutch) is still highly insightful for cinema historians in the Netherlands.

With this research, though innovative and visionary in itself, Karel paved the way for something even bigger, something that would become his life time achievement: the Cinema Context database. Karel always emphasized that Cinema Context is much more than just a database or encyclopedia for information on cinemas and film programs. To him Cinema Context was most and foremost a research tool, which would allow for generating and answering complex research questions about Dutch film culture, including patterns of film distribution and networks of cinemas, distributors and exhibitors. It is only during the last couple of years that this true potential of Cinema Context has begun to be recognized and that it has undergone a radical improvement, partly by initiatives by researchers of the CREATE project under the supervision of Julia Noordegraaf. In my last talk with Karel only a few weeks ago, he showed how happy and grateful he was to find his legacy in capable hands.

Karel’s legacy of course, extends this by far. Next to countless publications on Dutch film culture, including his dissertation from 1993 about the introduction of the talkies in the Netherlands, it is also the projects and collaborations he initiated as well as the inspiring talks for which he will be remembered and which will undoubtedly result in further compelling research questions and projects. Karel was able to push colleagues and students alike to take that extra step, seek for explanations, think out of the box.

Karel did not enjoy being center stage and if an illness had taken over his live, he would not allow her to dominate his conversations. During the last weeks at the hospital, there was a coming and going of family, friends and colleagues. Although exhausting, talks about future projects and plans fulfilled him with joy.

Karel, his wit and vision will be greatly missed. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues.

 

Kathleen Lotze (Utrecht University)

 

 

He will be missed: David H. Culbert, 1943-2017

It is with great sadness that I must on behalf of the IAMHIST Council tell members and friends of the death of Professor David H. Culbert. David was one of the pillars of our organization from its earliest days. He was a mainstay of conferences, masterclasses and above all its journal, The Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, which he edited for many years and continued to serve as editor emeritus. IAMHIST formally marked our collective debt to David at the end of his tenure at HJFRT by naming its annual prize for the best article by a senior scholar The David Culbert Prize.

David was born in 1943 and educated at Oberlin College, Ohio where he majored in German history. He also trained as an organist, holding a bachelor of music in organ performance from Oberlin Conservatory, and studying music in Salzburg, Austria, which prepared him for a life-long side career as a church organist and choir master. In 1970 David completed his PhD in American History at Evanston, Illinois, studying the role of radio news commentators in the 1930s America, which became the subject of his first book: News for Everyman: Radio and Foreign Affairs in Thirties America (Greenwood, 1976). He became especially well-known for his work on film propaganda in World War II using his command of German to bring archive-based insights into scholarly discourse on both sides of the Atlantic. His research achievements included conducting two interviews with Leni Riefenstahl.

It is characteristic of David’s great generosity with his time and intellect that much of his career was spent opening opportunities for other scholars as an editor of document series such as his multi volume Film and Propaganda in America: A Documentary History (Greenwood, 1990-1993) or the microfilm edition of the OWI archive: Information Control and Propaganda: Records of the Office of War Information (UPI, 1986) or the scholarly editions of major texts like Warner Brothers’ Mission to Moscow; as the editor of such widely read anthologies as World War II, Film and History (OUP, 1996), co-edited with John W. Chambers, or as the editor of our own HJFRT. It is appropriate for a man whose knowledge of the field was often described as encyclopedic that his publications included Propaganda and Mass Persuasion: A Historical Encyclopedia, 1500 to the Present, co-edited with myself and David Welch (ABC-Clio, 2003), a task he took on as a favor and which was greatly enhanced not only by his perceptive entries but also by some of the amazing propaganda images from his personal collection. David was an activist for the preservation of film; giving testimony on the subject on Capitol Hill. He pioneered bringing audio-visual evidence into the classroom. He spoke up for academic freedom and free speech. He was an essential presence at IAMHIST conferences where he presented his own work, and guided others as an insightful chair, discussant and engaged participant.

David was a devoted teacher whose decades of service at Louisiana State University were recognized by the award of the inaugural Loos chair of History in 2005, however his classroom was so much wider. He was an inspiration to colleagues in the field and a generous mentor to younger scholars who could depend on him for a supportive letter of recommendation. He was an entertaining speaker, whose presentations were known to include his bursting into song if the material called for that, and on at least one occasion he stepped up to play an accompaniment for a conference screening of a silent film. He was excellent company, with an infectious enthusiasm for a host of subjects from book collecting to choral music. He was a genial presence with a dry wit and an eye for comic side of everyday life. For the Council of IAMHIST he was a friend and an essential part of the management of our organization for the past thirty years. It is hard to imagine IAMHIST without him. Our thoughts are with his family and especially his wife, Lubna. He will be much missed.

Nicholas J. Cull

President, IAMHIST.

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