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the code II
When Scott reached the museum the following morning, he was primed to view the second disk in the Code of Clio trilogy. But first he had to spend time working on his main project with the Henderson Collection. He put in two hours of work before he took his lunch break, a perfect opportunity to watch the next Dr. Pop DVD. Anticipating this working lunch, Scott had brought a sandwich and apple with him. As he placed the disk into the DVD machine, he was happy again to see his old teacher, Dr. Papadopoulos ready to communicate another lesson.
“How nice to greet you again, Mr. Tennyson. I know your time must be filled with responsibilities that consume much of your day. I am pleased and flattered that you have found the opportunity to play this second recording.
“Today, I wish to talk about the preservation of historic documents. As you well know, when we say documents we mean not just books and letters from the ancient past. To us who are pledged to the Code of Clio, documents are everything related to human civilization.
Do you know our greatest source of our information about the history of civilization in East Africa in the 14th century? Garbage dumps! Garbage dumps, Scott. Who would have thought? But, when uncovered, these ancient garbage dumps held wonderful historical information. For example, we would have known nothing about the flourishing trade between China and the area that is now Kenya had historians there not dug into the pits where medieval Africans buried their garbage and found pieces of antique pottery which proved the China-Africa connection.
“So, save the political items, the cultural materials, the economic information, save what you can from far-back to only-yesterday. It is all crucial for those seeking knowledge of the past. I suspect that historians in the distant future will even uncover our garbage dumps searching for evidence of what we accomplished, how we did it, and why we acted as we did.
“To impress this lesson upon you, I wish to read an ancient account of a man from my country, Theron of Argos, who learned the hard way the importance of document preservation.
Dr. Papadopoulos finished reading the short story and looked back toward Scott. “I hope you take to heart what I have just read, young man,” he said emphatically. “It is incumbent upon all historians to respect the profession, to share the resources, and to grow within the camaraderie that the community of scholarship makes possible.
“As a historian you are a keeper of the flame, Mr. Tennyson,” the professor continued. “That means you are a champion of discovery and preservation. As your work progresses, you will find overlooked documentation that must be preserved. You must find ways to insure its public availability and its preservation. We must act now to assist future Therons of Argos.”
“Let me prove my point with actual artifacts. I want to show you several short movies and one radio program that are totally unknown to contemporary historians. These are some of my favorites. They’re historically enlightening. But no historian has ever used even one of them when explaining the past.
“These are lost documents, Mr. Tennyson, missing from the common repository of information we use to learn of our past. I like to call them Missing Links. As far as scholarship is concerned, these documents do not exist. But as you will soon see, these are real artifacts holding important insights into their times. They should have been collected and preserved by public institutions. They would do much to assist others understand the historical experience were they readily available—and were researchers trained to investigate such sources.
“The first Missing Link is a theatrical movie serial from 1916. It concerns a group of young patriots called The Liberty Boys of ’76. They fight for Colonial independence against the British and the Indians in 1776. The characters actually emerged in late 19th century literature as the heroes of a series of children’s weekly publications called, as you might expect, The Liberty Boys of ’76.
As you can see from the cover photographs, the old magazine offered action-adventure stories for youngsters—and especially boys. For more than two decades children purchased their weekly stories and found them exciting. In 1916, however, The Liberty Boys of ’76 moved beyond pop literature and appeared in a theatrical movie serial.
Even if we left the story here, it would be compelling: an early example of the adaptation of juvenile fiction to big-screen motion picture. But, reportedly, the movie serial was financed by the German government in the belief that any tale of patriotic Americans fighting the English—even during the Revolutionary War—would increase anti-British distrust among contemporary Americans and bolster Germany’s interests in World War I.
The United States was officially neutral in 1916. If The Liberty Boys of ’76 could generate hatred of the British within the United States, perhaps the Americans might join Germany in waging war against the modern Red Coats. But even if the movie only fostered a stronger demand for U.S. neutrality, that would also assist the German cause.
So what you have, Scott, is American popular culture being maneuvered against U.S. national interest by a foreign government. Although the film didn’t turn the U.S. against the English, you must admit that it was a clever effort by Germany. In fact, once the United States entered the war in April 1917, the motion picture was withdrawn from circulation.
Watch now one installment of this long-forgotten serial. As you view it, ask yourself how realistic the German propaganda effort was. Also ask yourself if analyzing this film would not add to our understanding of American politics in the year before U.S. entry into the First World War.
Next, I want to show you another remarkable film. It is one of “a genre”—that’s a fancy French way of saying “a kind”—it’s one kind of motion picture that is extremely plentiful, but seldom collected by research archives. I speak of the home movie.
“Think of it, Scott, average people throughout the world purchased movie cameras to photograph 8-millimeter or 16-millimeter motion pictures of what they saw and experienced. And they have been doing this ever since personal movie cameras became available in the 1920s. Nowadays they use camcorders and cell phones instead of film cameras, but they’re still making home movies of what they consider important.
“Sure, their films too often contain images of cute youngsters, adoring grandparents, new cars, and vacations out West. At first sight such films may sound boring and insignificant. Why would historians want to save old family movies?
“I’ll tell you why, Scott. It’s because these amateur photographers were actually performing a tremendous service to historical study. They were making a tremendous chronicle of what people of their times felt was worth preserving. What an enormous project it was. It’s as if historians asked millions of volunteers over the last century to make movies of what was important. But there was a hitch: these photographers received no compensation for what they were doing; and they, themselves, had to pay for the cameras, the unexposed film, and even the cost of developing of the film!
“How long has this been going on?, I ask. A long time, I answer. But the flaw in this brilliant scheme has been on our end of the deal. Yes, the amateurs made their movies, but we historians never bothered to collect and preserve those films for future generations to study.
“You may not enjoy what is in these movies. But you must respect their existence. Whatever images exist, they are authentic. If we had similar film footage from Renaissance Italy or Tokugawa Japan, how much richer would our understanding be of these remarkable historical eras. Imagine having the home movies of a typical family shopping for food and clothing in Persepolis in the 4th century BC—or the everyday life of a family living in the Mandingo Empire of the early 14th century. How much more would we know about ancient Persia at the peak of its power? How much fuller would our comprehension be of West African history?
The problem then becomes: how do historians retrieve those volunteer home movies that may still exist? The answer, Mr. Tennyson, is that no historian has ever tried that. There is no central collection site for this footage. Most of these moving images of the human past—and they were made by people on every continent, in every country, in every city, on every street or pathway—have been destroyed, junked once their personal usefulness ended. As for rescuing them, our public libraries and academic institutions don’t really want home movies. There no master plan for accumulating or preserving them.
“But all is not lost. There are countless home movies remaining to be uncovered and preserved. They sit unrecognized in storage areas, home basements, and other obscure corners throughout the world. But, if no one collects them and no one maintains them, then civilization will never know they existed. Their contents will be simply lost, forever.
“To appreciate what a home movie might tell us, consider Nazi Germany in the year before World War II began. Did the German people know what was happening to them? Could they foresee a second global conflict exploding in a matter of months? Did they anticipate the complete destruction of their beautiful country?
“What could we learn about social conditions in prewar Germany if we could magically take an automobile trip throughout the country as war approached? Well, because of a preserved home movie, you are about to travel through National Socialist Germany in August 1938. This is one month before the Munich Conference carved up Czechoslovakia and gave part of it to the Nazi state—and one year before the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 that precipitated another world war.
“Here on film is an American couple taking a summer motor trip through Germany and Austria, itself once an independent country, but annexed by Germany early in 1938. This remarkable family film provides an informative interpretation of everyday life inside Hitler’s dictatorship on the verge of destruction.
“Here is the third of my Missing Link films. It will show you life in the United States near the end of World War II. Ah, I can almost hear your mind whirring with images of wartime self-sacrifice, food rationing, exhausted factory workers, women without men, a militarized society. But, again Scott, eschew stereotypes. And if you don’t know what eschew means, look it up.
“You are now about to view one of the celebrated March of Time series of short documentaries shown in movie theaters between the mid-1930s and the early 1950s. During these years a new March of Time documentary was released each month to audiences all over the world.
“But like so much of U.S. mass culture, these films were made by a private corporation as a profit-making enterprise. The same company that published Time, Life, and Fortune magazines also produced these March of Time featurettes. The films were private property protected by copyright laws which made it a crime to show or copy them without the consent of the owner.
“So, once these films spent their month on theater screens, they were retired to a corporate vault where they remained. The public could never see them again. Academic researchers had no access to them. They were not even available for purchase. For one month an entertaining and informative interpretation of American life, the newsreels were forever entombed in a company storage facility.
“Well, young man, we are about the reverse all those decades of disappearance. What I am going to show you is a typical March of Time installment. It’s entitled “Teen-age Girls.” It was shown during the month of June 1945, and it presented a condensed interpretation of teenage society as experienced by a young lady living in the suburbs of New York City. Just as the home movie from Germany challenged your presumptions, I think this short movie will clash with preconceived notions about life in America as the Second World War was ending. When in doubt, Scott, always check the evidence. So, let’s go to the documentary and check the evidence.
“My fourth selection is very political on the surface. It is called Watchtower over Tomorrow, and it’s an optimistic projection of the new world order anticipated by many people to emerge from Allied victory in World War II. The film is from early 1945, and it foresees the United Nations as an effective global organization insuring mutual security and making future wars impossible. There will be no more wars because national disputes will be resolved through rational discussion. Sanity will return to international relations. With Fascism crushed, the nations of the world will now work together in harmony. International law, global stability, world peace: what a glorious picture Watchtower over Tomorrow promises.
“In the decades since the film appeared, we know that the United Nations did not produce such a happy result. For all of its many victories in international matters—and there have been many such victories—the U.N. did not prevent major conflicts in Korea and Vietnam—colonial struggles in places such as India, Pakistan, Algeria, and the Congo—internal unrest in Indonesia, Cambodia, Palestine, South Africa, and elsewhere—and of course the Cold War which dominated the last half of the twentieth century.
“But, disregard the history of civilization since 1945. Watch this short motion picture to understand the optimism of the times that produced the greatest international institution for world peace in the history of humanity, the United Nations. Learn from it, Scott, by embracing its perspective from 1945.
“My final Missing Link is not a movie. It’s a radio broadcast. Just as with films and paper materials, the preservation of vintage radio programs is integral to rescuing our historic record. This is certainly the case for what you are going to hear. But rather than a major presidential speech or a lost news broadcast, I want you to listen to a panel discussion. The topic this time: rock and roll music. It’s from a network radio program in the earliest months of the musical form.
“I could now deliver a lecture about the roots of rock and roll and how it emerged from African-American rhythm and blues about 1955-1956. Suffice to say, however, that when rock and roll arrived it was extremely controversial—not with juveniles, but with adults who for a variety of reasons felt the music was corrupting the younger generation.
“As you listen, Scott, pay attention to the famous songwriter Irving Caesar who is so hostile to rock and roll. Consider the comments of James McCarthy and Joe Delaney who are neither enthused by the new music, nor threatened by it.
“What the panelists missed is the perspective that we now have. From our vantage point many decades later we can see how rock music became the cadence to which millions of young people, born just before or during the postwar baby boom, marched into the second half of the twentieth century. Like no form of popular music in history, rock and roll energized an unprecedented social movement that created incredible turmoil and remarkable change.
“The show was called American Forum of the Air. It was a weekly political discussion show, usually involved with international relations and domestic politics. But here in July 1956 the show took a cultural turn. It offered a critique of rock and roll just as the music was being born, and just as its young fans began gathering as a force of substantial social influence.
“Well, Mr. Tennyson, now that you have seen and heard the Missing Links, ponder their implications. They are unique reflections of specific times and issues. They are also part of the dilemma we historians face in maintaining what we call primary sources, the records without which we cannot function. No evidence from primary sources, no history. No history, no historians. We struggle for our craft and for the humanity we serve.
“Why have you never heard of any of these films? Why have historians never used them in their research, writing, and teaching? Why have they never been televised or placed on the internet in proper perspective? Are they not informative? Do they not provide insight into their respective times? Should they not be considered historically significant?
“Oh, there I go again. Enough of my criticism for one day. Until tomorrow when you view the final disk, I bid you a fond goodbye. May the Code of Clio go with you and in you, Mr. Tennyson.”
|Copyright © 2010 J. Fred MacDonald-All Rights Reserved.|