The Relevance of the USIA/S Archives to the Field of Film and Media Studies

Journal issue, 14. July 2019.

 

Special Issue Editors: Hadi Gharabaghi (NYU) & Bret Vukoder (Carnegie Mellon)

Call for Papers: Journal of e-Media Studies (e-media.journal@dartmouth.edu)

The Journal of e-Media Studies invites papers concerning the motion picture activities of the United States Information Agency (USIA). In response to the increased availability of USIA materials in multiple archives in the United States and the emergence of pertinent international scholarship, this call for papers invites new work that broadly addresses the relevance of the USIA archives to the field of film and media studies.

During the second half of the twentieth century, the USIA and the constituent global branches of the United States Information Service (USIS) factored diplomatically across the Cold War world through the production, distribution, and sponsorship of films and the export of audiovisual and televisual media infrastructure and expertise. The archive roughly holds 18,000 films made throughout the world and distributed to over 150 nations in nearly fifty languages. They represent a variety of subject matters and filmmaking styles, including narrative documentary; newsreel (weekly magazines, cultural topics, diplomatic visits); puppet animation and cartoons; “how-to” agricultural, modernization, and military films; and fiction (moderating the distribution of Hollywood titles).

Although operating as a top-down agency of global campaigns of persuasion and diplomacy, the USIS branches often developed relative to the sociopolitical contingencies of their local context. Moreover, the USIA was active in the United States by supporting small production companies and emerging filmmakers, often privileging the work of graduate students, minorities, and young people. The USIA also contracted and collaborated with university-affiliated entities, programs of technical assistance (such as Point Four, later USAID), the military, the State Department, and other government agencies. Many cases of the resulting cross-cultural partnerships, affective relations, and gift economies testify to the porous nature of the USIA apparatus amenable to individual agency and empowerment. As these governing rationalities demonstrate, the USIA participated in a complex ecology of operations through negotiations of binational contracts, multi-level bureaucracy, and shifting power relations.

Because USIA materials were intended for non-Americans outside the United States and placed under a domestic U.S. distribution ban until 2012, the USIA represents for American scholars a large and relatively unknown film and media “studio”. In conjunction with the film collections now becoming available at multiple archives (chief among them the National Archive and Records Administration), the USIA paper trail available in archives represents an additional resource of great value for investigating the global flow and bureaucratic rationality of USIA/S film and media infrastructure after World War II. More than any other existing archive, the USIA/S collections present opportunities for researching once classified cultures of filmmaking and media governance. Accordingly, USIA research may foster methodologies that seek to understand and make legible media circulation across institutional, linguistic, cultural, and economic borders.

Given the massive size, variety, and dispersiveness of the USIA/S materials, the archive also warrants creative engagement from the digital humanities. Questions of access, organization, and annotation prove particularly salient when considering the USIA motion picture at scale. We intend for this special issue will help to advocate for new collective efforts to aid in the recovery, discovery, collation, and analysis of USIA/S materials and promote further opportunities for inquiry among scholars who previously did not have access to the archives.

We suggest the following list of topics and welcome other approaches:

  1. The infrastructure for establishing television and film labs in postcolonial nations
  2. The influence of USIA initiatives and its satellite (contracted) institutions in the formation of national cinemas in postcolonial nations
  3. The sponsorship and development of mobile screening and rural television production
  4. The promotion of audiovisual literacy and screen culture among postcolonial nations
  5. Narratives and theories of labor in USIA/S media production
  6. The development of workshops for documentary filmmaking and newsreel production
  7. Media governance, nation-building, and USIS operations
  8. Production, distribution, and exhibition histories of USIA/S moving image divisions
  9. Genre, form, and aesthetics of the USIA/S film output
  10. Film-viewing cultures within USIS sites of operation
  11. Embassies and USIS offices as sites of policy and diplomatic governing through film
  12. Protocols and practices in USIS film libraries and archives in relation to the formation of national film archives
  13. U.S. and other national censorship boards related to the USIA/S operations
  14. Legal histories of the “Smith-Mundt Act” and policies related to USIA motion pictures
  15. Intersections of USIA operations and American cinema more broadly (policy, regulation, sponsorship)
  16. The politics of race, gender, and class relations (representational practices)
  17. The relation of USIA/S missions to the development of film studies in the U.S.
  18. USIA archives and contemporary tools of the digital humanities (e.g., access, annotation, analysis at scale)
  19. USIA role in histories of data gathering: surveys, polling, and interviews of film audiences

The Journal of e-Media Studies is an online, peer-reviewed publication. It is an open access journal that prioritizes utilizing the affordances of digital publishing (such as the inclusion of clips within published pieces) and is committed to the free circulation and use of its content. A variety of submission types will be accepted. These include double-blind peer reviewed essays; works in progress that seek feedback (working papers); reviews of books and conferences; and works that reflect upon previously published case study manuscripts.

Please send abstract submissions (up to 300 words plus 3-5 bibliographic sources) to e-media.journal@dartmouth.edu between June 16th and July 14th, 2019.

Completed manuscripts (8000-12000 words) for accepted proposals will be due by September 30th, to initiate the double-blind review process. 

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