A day, well two days, at the archives… Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Toronto Public Library

Katharina Niemeyer, Professor at the Media School , Faculty of Communication , University of Quebec in Montreal and Chloé Tremblay-Goyette, Research Assistant at the Faculty of Communication , University of Quebec in Montreal

19 January 2018

From Paris to Canada

Over the last few years, I have had the pleasure of visiting the fascinating Bibliothèque Nationale de France  (French National Library), and to analyse the archive material held at the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel  (INA). In 2016, I moved to Montreal (the mainly French speaking part of Canada) where new opportunities for archival research have emerged; such as the rich collections held in the BANQ  (Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec), to name such one. Today, Chloé Tremblay-Goyette and I wish to share our explorative research experience at the archives of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and the Toronto Public Library  where we spent two days at the end of November 2017.

We, along with another research assistant, Anne-Marie Charette, are currently working on preparing a project which focusses on the mediatization of terrorism in the 20th century. This project seeks to trace several sources such as historical newspapers, radio and television broadcasts. A lot of material pertinent to this project has been digitized, and is available online ; for example there are a few French-speaking broadcasts available from Radio Canada, and its English-speaking equivalent CBC ; and collections of newspapers from BANQ and Archives Canada, Ottowa. However, much more material remains housed within the archives themselves, and so it is very important for media historians to visit such archives for profound and investigative research.

Day 1 – Toronto Public Library

Libraries, although they are not always labeled officially as archives, can be quite a good source of information in the framework of an archival search. After contacting a few libraries in Toronto looking to know more about their records that could be related to our research topic, we ended up deciding to spend a day in the Toronto Reference Library. Not only had it been pointed out by a librarian as one of the best libraries to access newspapers, but it also had the option to book an appointment with a librarian to help us out with our research. We decided to make an appointment on the 23rd of November, as we were going to be in Toronto for a couple of days exploring different archives. As we are both living in Montreal, we weren’t familiar with Toronto and were quite happy to find out the Toronto Reference Library is in a central location, at about a minute’s walk away from Bloor-Younge station.

Chloé, arrived there quite early (9:00 AM). As there was hardly anyone in the building, she got to enjoy this gorgeous airy library to herself:

A short time later Chloé met Bessie, a librarian from the Toronto Reference Library, who was able to help by providing advice on how to make a better use of the library’s expansive database, which includes Canadian newspapers from across the Pacific to the Atlantic. Katharina joined Chloé in the early afternoon after enjoying the quite spectacular five hour train ride in the morning from Montreal to Toronto, where you can view the beautiful Lake Ontario pictured below:

Although the collection did not hold many items prior to the 1980s, we were able to access main Canadian newspapers like the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail going back to the first half of the 20th century. There is even a special place in the library that is called the ‘Toronto Star Newspaper Centre’. Although most of these older articles weren’t indexed, they had been digitized, and we enjoyed going back to the earliest articles available to understand how the terms and concepts of terrorism might had evolved since early in the 20th century. This helped to stimulate our interest in the research we are planning to do.

Day 2 – Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

On a not-so-cold November morning, we spent the next day at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that is situated quite close to the main train station (it is a five-minute walk away) and even more interesting: close to the famous CN tower.

Geoffrey Hopkinson, Senior Manager of the CBC Libraries and Archive, welcomed us with his colleagues, experienced media librarians Arthur Schwartzel (TV) and Keith Hart (Radio) who had already conducted preliminary research in relation to our topic. The team guided us the whole day, not only through the general research possibilities and the software, but also indicated the obstacles that are related to the latter. As material from 1952 (the year television arrived in Canada) until the early 1990s was only indexed in the 1990s, research based on keywords is not as reliable in terms of synchronization with the broadcast content, as it is the newspaper articles that can be browsed more easily by the nature of their structure and digitization.

Chloé spent the day looking through the two CBC radio databases. Both radio databases did not provide direct access to the records, but to descriptions of them including keywords. There was a possibility to access and to listen to records upon request. The first, and oldest, radio database goes all the way back to the 1950s, and ends in the middle of the 1990s, the second database covers the 1990s till present day, and together they provide a quite extensive overview of CBC radio diffusion. Although there was limited results related to our topic from the 1950s, results started to become increasingly interesting as Chloé searched through later decades. As Keith explained, searching through earlier records, especially through the ones from many decades ago can be quite delicate because the employees who indexed these broadcasts at the time were not always comfortable describing the events reported as “terrorism” in the 1950s, which is actually the same problem for television.

With the help of Arthur, Katharina learned more about the various possibilities for accessing the 32 English-speaking video archives ranging from Yellowknife TV News to the program archives all by experiencing the work of the DIVA’s archive solution (a special CBC robotic system) that offers the possibility to select an old broadcast directly on a computer screen. The tape is selected by the machine that converts the tape into a digital signal and sends the content then to your computer for visioning – physically at a distance between the 7th floor and the basement.

Our fascinating morning research session was then turning into a personal guided tour of the archives, such as the analogue VTR library. Interestingly, all tapes have a unique ID and bar code to facilitate the work for the CBC people. You can even take a virtual tour, but we also took pictures of course:


We also visited the Film Vault, where approximately 115,000 cans of film are sleeping at approx. 4°C, quite warm if we look at current Montreal temperatures…

We are both looking forward to come back to CBC, and to also enjoy the wonderful restaurants in downtown Toronto nearby. If you have the opportunity to visit Toronto do not miss a free visit to the CBC museum situated in the same building where you can even find some relics of 1990s technology such as the MiniDisc.

To be continued with ‘Part II: A Day at the Archives… Montreal’…

Katharina Niemeyer is Professor of Media Theory at the Media School , Faculty of Communication, University of Quebec in Montreal and she is an IAMHIST council member.

Chloé Tremblay-Goyette, Research Assistant at the Faculty of Communication , University of Quebec in Montreal, works on the mediatization of refugees in Australian media in her Master thesis

Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.














The City Archive: Expect the unexpected

Leen Engelen, LUCA School of Arts and the Institute for Media Studies (KU Leuven, Belgium)

15 December 2017

For many years, I have been doing media historical research. My preferred research topic is visual culture (film, picture postcards, posters…) in the 1910s and 1920s. I have thus visited many different kinds of archives in several different countries. From the Belgian National Archives in Brussels to small unopened private and company archives, stored in dusty boxes in basements or attics. I would like to write however about my experience in city archives, which I came to know as treasure troves full of unexpected gems.

Of houses, police regulations and movie posters

Being a historian is hardly ever just a job. When I moved house a few years ago, I decided to check on the history of the house (built in the post-World War I era) in the local city archive. I requested the files and went to the reading room to look at the building plans and correspondence between the urban planning department and the architect. While looking at these documents, I dropped my eye on a series of film posters hanging on the wall somewhat hidden behind the registration desk. Upon inquiry, the librarian told me they had a whole bunch of these in the archive and if I cared to take a look at them. They were well-preserved in acid free folders, but were otherwise not inventoried. My interest was raised and I made an appointment with the head archivist. She showed me the whole collection and it turned out they had hundreds of posters in their vaults. A police regulation dating back to 1892 stipulated that one copy of every poster hung at the official billboards throughout the city had to be deposited at the municipal administration to enable verification by the police. The aim was to prevent offensive, illegal or inflammatory posters from provoking public outrage. Next to cinema posters, the collection included political posters, election propaganda, theatre and music posters. Because of the un-inventoried state of the archive, only few researchers had shown interest in this particular collection and virtually no one had looked at the film posters. This unexpected find initiated a collaborative project called ‘Cinema Leuven’ with the Leuven City Archive and the Heritage Department which resulted, two years later, in a book, an exhibition on the city’s cinema history at the local theatre, several student research papers and a completely inventoried and digitized film poster collection accessible online (www.cinemaleuven.be).

Figure 1: source: Leuven City Archive

Figure 2: source: Leuven City Archive

Talk to the archivist

After this experience, my interest in city archives was sparked. A few years later my colleague Roel Vande Winkel and myself embarked on a project that came about thanks to a wakeful and enthusiast archivist at the City Archive in Antwerp (also called Felixarchive because of its location in an old harbour warehouse called ‘Felixpakhuis’). We both had done research at the Felixarchive for cinema related research projects before and one day the archivist pointed my colleague to the archive of the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp (Koninklijke Maatschappij voor Dierkunde van Antwerpen, KMDA), the society that operated the Antwerp Zoo since 1843. Not exactly an archive media historians like us would usually be interested in. What we found, when we took a closer look, however was quite amazing. A near complete business archive of ‘Cinema Zoologie’, the movie theatre that had been opened at the zoo’s premises in 1915 and remained in service without interruption until  1936. Not only did the archive hold detailed weekly programs (a treasure in itself for those interested in new cinema history), we also found administrative documents and correspondence with distributors, local authorities and musicians. The icing on the cake, were letters from members of the audience, commenting on specific films, on other members’ behaviour (unruly children, passionate youngsters or unfaithful husbands and wives). We were utterly surprised to find this in an archive that was produced by a zoological garden and hadn’t it been for the archivists, we probably wouldn’t have found out about this archive at all. Thanks to this large variety of documents, we have since been able to inventory the complete film and music program of ‘Cinema Zoologie’, from its founding in 1915 until it closure in 1936, and to reconstruct its complete history. From its founding during the German occupation of Antwerp in the First World War (which we published here), throughout the roaring 1920s and the transition to sound, to its decline due to increasing competition in the film exhibition sector in the years preceding the Second World War. We were not the only one to be surprised by the story of Cinema Zoologie. When we approached the Royal Zoological Society (that still operates – among other things – the Antwerp zoological garden today) in 2015, they were unaware of this particular part of the Society’s history. Their interest was sparked by this unusual story and we are currently setting up a Cinema Zoologie exhibition at the zoo’s premises (to be opened in 2018 to celebrate the Garden’s 175th birthday), a book publication and an online platform providing access to the archive and the programming database.

Figure 3: FelixArchief, Antwerp City Archive, Royal Zoological Society Antwerp

Boxes, Chocolate Wraps and Cinema Programs

While working with the Cinema Zoologie archive, the archivists mentioned another collection they had recently started working on: the papers of a man listening to the remarkable name Télésphorus Buyssens (1879-1945), an Antwerp railway administrator with a keen interest in… almost everything. It seems like throughout his life, he kept every piece of paper he could get hold of. This resulted in over 50 boxes filled with chocolate wraps, advertising brochures, bills, envelopes, letters, announcements, flyers, packages, political pamphlets… and film programs. This huge pile of papers (an optimistic archivist called it ‘papierotheek’) includes ephemeral documents that don’t usually make it to archives but that are relevant for researchers in many different fields: from economic historians researching price fluctuations of consumer goods to graphic designers and art historians interested in the design of wraps and packages of everyday products. His letters, many of which were written during the First World War, have been used by the archive for their public history project on the life of ordinary Antwerp citizens during the Great war. The collection of more than 1500 cinema flyers of over 70 different theatres in Belgium (mainly Antwerp) and France (the north), dated between roughly 1908 and 1942, is very valuable for cinema historians. Especially for the first decades of the 20th century this type of ephemeral sources rarely survives in such quantities. So once again, talking to the archivist brought very interesting and unexpected material to our attention. And who knows, the next project.

Figure 4: Felixarchief, Antwerp City Archive, Archive Télésphorus Buyssens

Leen Engelen is a media historian at LUCA School of Arts and the Institute for Media Studies (KU Leuven, Belgium). She is vice-president of IAMHIST.

Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

A day at the archives… The Stanley Kubrick Archives, University of Arts London (UAL)

James Fenwick, De Montfort University

5 December 2017

Tucked deep in the bowels of the London College of Communication is a discreet room behind frosted glass. Stepping into this room, first time visitors can be forgiven for thinking they are stepping onto the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). A sterile white environment with bold red furniture, this is the home of UAL’s University Archives and Special Collections Centre and the resting place of the Stanley Kubrick Archive. I have spent many hours at the Kubrick Archive over the past seven years, first visiting it as part of research for my Master’s degree and, more recently, for my PhD research into Kubrick’s role as a producer. But all these years later I still feel a shiver of excitement as I step into the Archive and find myself immediately confronted with the weight of cinematic history that it holds. Small glass cabinets are positioned around the central reading room and contain props and other ephemera from the Kubrick Archive: face masks worn during the orgy sequence of Eyes Wide Shut (1999); a 1964 letter from Kubrick to Arthur C. Clarke proposing a collaboration on a science fiction project; or Kubrick’s personal working copy of the A Clockwork Orange (1971) screenplay, replete with his handwritten notes on inserted music sheets for ‘Singin’ in the Rain’.


Figure 1: © Luke Potter, 2007, courtesy of the Stanley Kubrick Archive/Figure 2: © Paul Heys, 2012, courtesy of the Stanley Kubrick Archive

Kubrick retained the majority of his business papers, correspondence, and production documents from the 1960s onwards (the Archive does house material from the 1940s and 1950s, but the documentation for the likes of Fear and Desire (1953) through to The Killing (1956) are more sparse compared to Kubrick’s later films), all filed into a system at his home at Childwick Bury Manor. Upon his death it became apparent that this material was of such cultural historic importance that it needed archiving with a scholarly institution. And it is to the great fortune of the academic community that the Kubrick family allowed the Archive to be opened to the public in 2007.

The popularity of the Archive combined with the small space of the reading room means that anyone wanting to visit is advised to contact the archival team several weeks in advance to secure an appointment (archive-enquiries@arts.ac.uk). Reading times are between 1pm and 5pm Monday to Friday, with boxes being retrieved until 4pm. There are locker spaces for any personal items and I’ve even been allowed to store my suitcase at times. The Archive does have a strict copyright policy and I strongly suggest any researcher wanting to visit read it in advance (here). Photography is not permitted of any items that are part of the Kubrick Archive due to an agreement with the donors. Therefore, a laptop is highly recommended to take as many notes as possible.

I would also strongly advocate planning your trip using the online catalogue (here). The sheer size of the Archive is overwhelming (over 800 linear metres of shelving) and I have witnessed many rookies to the Archive over the years expect to find the Holy Grail to Kubrick’s genius. That is until they realise just how much Kubrick hoarded and how much of it is seemingly trivial in nature (financial receipts, commercial catalogues, dispatch notes, order forms etc). The online catalogue is easy to navigate and is broken down into nineteen separate categories, thirteen of which relate to Kubrick’s feature films, while the remaining six categories include entries such as ‘Unfinished Projects’ (contains material on projects such as Aryan Papers and A.I.), and ‘Documentaries’ (this contains material on the two projects Vivian Kubrick directed: Making the Shining (1980) and the unreleased Making of Full Metal Jacket). I usually make meticulous notes of the boxes that I want to look at in order to form the basis of a particular case study, but it does pay to sometimes select random boxes and to peruse their contents. I’ve often come across surprising revelations this way, such as a letter from Peter Schnitzler, the grandson of Arthur, written to Kubrick in 1959. Peter had visited Kubrick on the set of Spartacus (1960) and the two had clearly talked about the prospect of developing one of Schnitzler’s novels into a film (something not realised until Eyes Wide Shut (1999)). As such, Peter offered his grandfather’s notebooks to Kubrick for further research (SK/9/4/1).

Figure 3: © Paul Heys, 2012, courtesy of the Stanley Kubrick Archive

As a confessed Kubrick obsessive, I take absolute pleasure in coming across handwritten letters from the likes of Sir Laurence Olivier (turning down the role of Humbert Humbert in Lolita (1962)), or Vladimir Nabokov (insisting he must be present at the casting of the title role of Lolita). But that is not to suggest the Kubrick Archive is a depository of materials that will easily illuminate the processes of a Kubrick production. Firstly, and perhaps most frustratingly, is the illegible scrawl of Kubrick’s handwriting, which can be found on many items in the Archive, right down to some innocuous requisition form. Senior Archivist Richard Daniels may be at hand to attempt to decipher Kubrick’s writing, though more often than not I have abandoned such hope in ever understanding what on earth he was writing. Similarly, catalogue entries may build up your hopes of coming across an item that will utterly revise the scholarly approach to Kubrick, only to find that the item is in fact just a dog-eared old note filled with doodles and other musings rather than any kind of Rosebud. I found myself so duped at the beginning of my PhD when I came across a catalogue entry that read ‘Kubrick job list’, with a description that suggested Kubrick had outlined by hand a ‘Kubrick company chart’ (SK/16/2/15). I went into a nervous sweat feeling that this could be it; this could be the key to unlocking my PhD research in revealing Kubrick the producer. I made an advance order of the box and arrived prompt at 1pm. I watched one of the staff wheel out the box on a metal trolley ready for its dissection by me. I opened it up and rummaged through the files until I came to it, ‘Kubrick’s job list’, a slice of yellowing, crumpled A4 paper filled with more of Kubrick’s spidery handwriting. Four company names were listed next to a wonky table that had two black dots placed inside of it. Only two companies were decipherable, Peregrine and Polaris. The file told me nothing. My heart sank and, after several more hours in the Archive, I consoled myself in a nearby Elephant & Castle pub with a tepid beer.

This has pretty much been the pattern of my time spent researching at the Archive. I wade through boxes of dusty, dog-eared business papers while a group of students grin as they open a box that contains a jumper worn by Danny Torrance in The Shining (1980). I have to give myself a moment for pause as I gleefully join the students to gaze upon this battered, forty-year old piece of clothing, momentarily dropping my researcher façade and becoming just a fan. And this exemplifies the two halves of the Archive: one is the exciting journey of new ways to engage with Kubrick’s life and work, to touch the objects and clothes that animated his films, and to experience a tangible connection to the man himself. The other is boxes and boxes of paper that document the laborious process of actually making the films we now enjoy. My thesis has drawn heavily on the financial papers, business and production correspondence, distribution reports and other such material to piece together the managerial and administrative structures and functions of a Stanley Kubrick production. And it has revealed just how difficult and exasperating a process this could be for both Kubrick and for those who worked with him.

The hours I have spent researching have been alleviated by the surroundings of the Archive itself, where at any one time there is a hive of activity. If you like a quiet, peaceful research environment, then the Archive may prove quite distracting. I personally thrive off of the activity and at seeing the various researchers, journalists, and students respond to the items they find. Occasionally, Jan Harlan (Kubrick’s brother-in-law and long time executive producer) may stroll in, or you may encounter a volunteer with an amazing story to tell (Joy Cuff volunteers at the Archive and worked as a model maker on 2001: A Space Odyssey). And there is a team of helpful and insightful archival staff on hand to guide rookies around the catalogue and to lend an insight into the Kubrick mind.

I’d like to end by just pointing out a few helpful travel tips. The Archive is conveniently located next to the Elephant & Castle tube station, served by the Bakerloo and Northern Line. First time visitors may get confused at the tangle of subway tunnels at Elephant & Castle. The easiest thing to do is follow signs for the London College of Communication / the Imperial War Museum. The entrance to the University is set back a little from the roundabout, as if you were to continue onto St. George’s Road. During term time it is impossible to miss – just look for the gaggle of staff and students outside smoking. The University does have café facilities but I prefer to maximise my time in the Archive and leave refreshments until the end of the day. After all, the BFI Southbank is but a ten-to-fifteen minute walk away. What better way to end a day trawling through the Stanley Kubrick Archive than catching a 70mm screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey and finally realising just how much paper went into the making of it.

James Fenwick has been researching Stanley Kubrick’s role as a producer and of those producers Kubrick worked with. He has published several articles on Kubrick, including ‘Curating Kubrick: Constructing ‘New Perspective’ Narratives in Stanley Kubrick Exhibitions’ for Screening the Past. He has recently undertaken a research trip to the Kirk Douglas Papers in Madison, Wisconsin, funded by the EAAS.

Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

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