Preservation and Presentation: Five Narratives to Activate the Archive

by Prof. Dr. Thomas Elsaesser (Emeritus Professor at University of Amsterdam)

My lecture presents a personally inflected account of the institutional conditions, academic challenges and political environment that had to converge in order to make possible the MA in Preservation and Presentation (P&P) at UvA in 2003, and why I insisted that a film archive needs to take presentation as seriously as preservation. The different narratives that led to the founding of the P&P programme included the emergence and consolidation of early cinema studies in the 1990s, as much as the increased exchange between film scholars and film archivists that began some twenty years before, in the early-to-mid-1970s. In addition, the numerous efforts to build up and expand the European Union’s MEDIA programmes also impacted the structure of P&P and shaped its relation to other universities in Europe and even in the US.

The reasons why I personally became motivated to teach the archival life of film have to do with Le Giornate del Cinema Muto at Pordenone and my regular attendance there prior to my move from Britain to Amsterdam. The productive but not altogether unproblematic relation of the newly inaugurated Film and Television Studies to the Nederlands Filmmuseum in the years 1991-1995 also played a role, and it was ultimately the Jean Desmet Collection that provided the practical basis for a curriculum that nonetheless insisted also on its theoretical dimensions and historical coordinates.

Thomas Elsaesser is Professor Emeritus at the Department of Media and Culture of the University of Amsterdam. From 2006 to 2012 he was Visiting Professor at Yale and since 2013 he is Visiting Professor at Columbia University. Author and editor of some twenty books, his work has been published in most European and many Asian languages. Among his recent books are German Cinema - Terror and Trauma: Cultural Memory Since 1945 (New York: Routledge, 2013), Film Theory – An Introduction through the Senses (with Malte Hagener, 2nd revised edition, New York: Routledge, 2015), Körper, Tod und Technik (with Michael Wedel, Paderborn: Konstanz University Press, 2016) and Film History as Media Archaeology (Amsterdam University Press, 2016). His latest book is European Cinema and Continental Philosophy – Film as Thought Experiment (London: Bloomsbury, 2018).