Digital history & historiography

Historicizing the Home Movie Dispositif: Reflections from the Longue Durée

This paper reflects on the cultural dynamics of the home movie as a twentieth century family memory practice. Over the years, many generations have documented and materialized their family memories on film, video and digital media. While the making and screening of family films used to be a rather exclusive hobby practiced only by the elite, this has changed considerably in today’s ubiquitous sharing cultures. In my research, I have examined from a longue durée perspective how changes in platforms of memory production and dissemination – from the first amateur film apparatuses to today’s smartphones – have shaped new forms of home movie making and screening. Exploring more than a century of family memory practices, I have systematically investigated the dynamic relationship between new memory technologies, their narrative and aesthetic forms, and the changing meanings of home movies in their social and cultural contexts of use. To historicize these transformations of the home movie dispositif, I distinguished between four specific historical periods of transition, each heralded by the arrival of a new memory technology: 9.5mm, 16mm and 8mm ‘small-gauges’ in the 1920s and 1930s; Super 8 and Single 8 ‘cassette-film’ formats in the 1960s; home video technologies in the late 1970s and 1980s; and digital media technologies in the 1990s and 2000s. The paper provides both empirical and conceptual reflections on this long-term media historical research. I argue that in order to faithfully study media technologies and mediated practices in their permanent state of transition, we need to de-essentialize the notion of dispositif and rethink media histories beyond their traditional narratives of change and continuity. Scholars interested in long-term media historical development therefore may consider, I propose, a radical process-oriented approach in which hybridity no longer forms an exception, but rather a new way of thinking about media history in general.

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