From Ephemeral to Legitimate: An Inquiry into Television's Material Traces in Archival Spaces, 1950s -1970s
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The dissertation offers a historical inquiry about how television's material traces entered archival spaces. Material traces refer to both the moving image products and the assortment of documentation about the processes of television as industrial and creative endeavors. By identifying the development of television-specific archives and collecting areas in the 1950s to the 1970s, the dissertation contributes to television studies, specifically pointing out how television materials were conceived as cultural and historical materials "worthy" of preservation and academic study. Institutions, particularly academic and cultural institutions with archival spaces, conferred television with a status of legitimacy alongside the ascent of television studies in the 1960s and 1970s. Institutions were sites of legitimation, however, television's entrance into these archival spaces depended on the work of various individuals within academic, archival, and industrial structures who grappled with defining television's intangible archival values and dealt with material obstacles. In examining several major institutions and the factors at play in archiving television, we can trace how television was valued as worthy of academic study and conceptualized as historical evidence. The following research questions structured this historical inquiry: How did different institutions approach television as archivable in the 1950s to the 1970s? Who were the determinators within these institutions, who could conceptualize television as archivable? What were the factors that enabled television's material traces to enter archival spaces? How did television directly or indirectly enter these archival spaces? Drawing on historical methods, the research primarily examined the archives of the archives, meaning institutional documents that illuminated the archival process and perceptions about television and media. The dissertation focused on five case studies: the Museum of Modern Art, the Mass Communications History Center at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, the UCLA Film and Television Archives, and the Museum of Broadcasting. These case studies represent the various institutional contexts that applied an archival logic to television. Cultural institutions, academic archives, and industry-initiated archives worked as sites to legitimate television, transforming ephemeral broadcast moments into lasting historical and cultural material.