Share in our discoveries across three projects as we work to provide the first intellectual access to our hidden treasures relating to work and labor in early 20th Century New England, the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair and its period, and Boston local TV news.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cyrus Pinkham Collection draws scholarly attention

Last summer (August 2010), our first William S. O'Farrell Fellow Caitlin McGrath came to the archives in Bucksport to research NHF's holdings of amateur films shot at the New York World's Fair. During her exploratory phase she commented to me that a reel shot by Cyrus Pinkham stood out from the group as a high quality film, and that it exemplified the concept of looking at the individual's experience at the fair through the filmmaker's lens. Well, I was thrilled to hear Caitlin's enthusiasm for Pinkham's work as I have been excited about all of the material in that collection since it came in as a technical services transfer job in 2009. So, I suggested that she take a look at the rest of that collection, and she was immediately taken by it.

Two weeks ago, on March 11th, we screened a compilation of materials from the Cyrus Pinkham Collection at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in New Orleans to a small group of scholars and researchers. I introduced the screening and Caitlin spoke over the silent films, narrating about the people, places and history of the filmmaker that she had learned about from talking with the donor. The screening was very well received, and noted for Pinkham's sophisticated use of industry filming and editing techniques and high quality cinematography skills.

The following day Caitlin chaired a panel called "Alternative Film Histories: Hollywood and the Amateur Revisited," in which she presented a paper analyzing Pinkham's Collection, and specifically his short film Be Beautiful (ca. 1938). Her interpretation of the film included an in depth analysis of the techniques used in creating the films and their potential for exposing possible relationships between amateur filmmakers and industrial filmmaking. She also explored the sociological revelations that can be possible when background information is available for amateur films.

The Cyrus Pinkham Collection is slated for cataloging this year as part of the "Moving Images 1938-1939: Amateur Filmmakers Record The New York World's Fair and Its Period" project. We are also seeking preservation funding to create new 16mm film negatives and prints for 2 reels from the collection. For more information about the Cyrus Pinkham Collection please contact us! (

Happy Spring! Gemma

Sunday, March 6, 2011

MPLP Thoughts

My name is Aimee Dus, and I am interning at Northeast Historic Film while finishing up my degree at Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science. I’m excited to be working with film for the first time, and I’m interested in seeing how topics from my coursework on paper based archives relate to film. For example, can, and should, "More Product, Less Process" techniques apply to collections of film and other media? Discussion of MPLP* started with the necessity of dealing with backlogs of huge modern manuscript collections. MPLP guidelines typically discourage processing at the item level, but this practice may not be desirable for film collections. A film reel is not really analogous to an individual document in a set of records, and vital information is not discoverable when individual reels are not described. Another option then, is to focus on making description of each reel more efficient. A cataloger could, for example, abandon shot by shot description of a reel, and instead compose a short summary of the reel's overall content and theme.

Another area where streamlined processing techniques could be applied to film collections is using the accessioning process to complete basic descriptive work. Christine Weideman, in her article “Accessioning as Processing,” discusses practices she established at Yale to alleviate a processing backlog. Having established minimum level descriptive standards for the Yale repository, staff now complete basic finding aids for all collections on accession. A critical step in this process is engaging donors at the beginning of the process so they are aware of limited processing and can give insight into the materials. Weideman even sometimes enlists donors to help with writing series level description. Involving interested donors in the initial processing of a collection could be especially useful for amateur film archives since so many of the films are home movies that donors know well through years of viewing. While these steps do complicate the accessioning process and may not work for every institution, taking advantage of donor knowledge could prevent a collection from entering a processing backlog and make its content immediately available for researchers.

* “More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing” by Mark A. Greene and Dennis Meissner, 2005.