Jasmijn Van Gorp & Rosita Kiewik

What’s Not in the Archive: Teaching Television History in the ‘Digital Humanities’ Era

Paper Presentations IModels for training digital humanists in accessing and analyzing audiovisual collections

Accessibility of audiovisual content plays an important role in the research process of media scholars (e.g. Bron et al, 2015). In the past, the arrival of the DVD improved the accessibility of television material for television scholarship. Brunsdon (2009: 29), for instance, states excitedly that the release of tv-programs on DVD affects not only the availability of the study texts, but also the labor of scholars. More recently, a similar, perhaps even more widespread, kind of excitement surrounds the possibilities that the Digital Humanities have to offer. Television programmes and contextual material have been digitized, cross-linked and made searchable through a variety of digital tools. One of the key questions in the Digital Humanities, then, is what kind of (new) skills the current generation of students and researchers need to have.

In the proposed presentation, we will discuss the training models used within the undergraduate course “Television History Online” at Utrecht University that makes central use of the tools of the European archive project EUscreen and the Dutch infrastructure project CLARIAH. In this course, we focus on the relation between access to television content and data selection. In previous editions of the course, students seemed to consider YouTube as benchmark, which caused frustration when confronted with the scarcity of audiovisual streamed content of institutional tools. Following Prelinger (2009: 268), it was YouTube that occurred as “the ideal form of archive”. It is this very observation that inspired us to develop two new assignments to make students more aware of the benefits and shortcomings of institutional tools and online video platforms such as YouTube, and to teach them to critically reflect on their selection processes. In the new assignments, we focus not only on what archives and digital tools do offer, but also, more importantly, on what they do not.

In the first assignment, students have to constitute a canon of a genre in Dutch television history and present this canon in a video poster at the EUscreen portal. Students are asked to select programmes based on theories, existing literature, and additional research. Selection is often related to access: if students (hypothetically) have to analyse television programmes, they will not select programmes that are not accessible to watch. In this assignment, however, students are asked to not restrict their selection because of inaccessibility. More specifically, we created a model for students to visualize any audiovisual material that would otherwise be missing in the video poster because of copyright or accessibility issues. In the second assignment, we ask students to trace the television programmes of their constituted canon with four digital tools of their choice, for example YouTube, Vimeo, CLARIAH’s AVResearcherXL and EUscreen, and compare them.

In the presentation, we will discuss how students dealt with the two assignments and elaborate on the benefits and pitfalls of the teaching models we used. In addition, we will reflect on the ways in which we gathered data for this research and related ethical and methodological considerations when having education as object of research.


Bron, M., Van Gorp, J., & de Rijke, M. “Media Studies Research in the Data-Driven Age. How Research

Questions Evolve”, Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 66, no. 12 (2015).

Brunsdon, C. “Television Criticism and the Transformation of the Archive.” Television & New Media 10, no. 1 (2009): 28-30.

Prelinger, R. “The Appearance of Archives.” In The YouTube Reader, edited by P. Snickars & P. Vonderau. 268-274. Stockholm: National Library of Sweden, 2009.