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The Archival Life of Home Movies: Regional Reflections and Negotiated Visions of a Shared Past
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Media Studies.
2018 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This study investigates the ways in which private home movies are transformed into curated archival objects. Through the concept of the archival home movie, it explores the impact of preservation and content description on access, use, and, thus, regional historiography. Additionally, it maps out the relationship between ordinary home-movie imagery and regional meaning making.

Using material from the University of Mississippi’s Home Movie Collection as a case study, the dissertation centers on the practice of researching family films and the possibilities for their contemporary cultural relevance. In recent years, home movies and amateur film have become topics of interest in studies of non-theatrical film as sources for unofficial histories. This dissertation intervenes into these discussions of the cultural value of home movies as a hands-on and self-reflexive investigation into the archive itself, as well as an activation of the archive. This methodology includes stagings of the home movie in live screenings, through which the dissertation investigates modes of spectator engagement with the historical material.

Chapter 1 assesses strategies for working with archival home movies that draw from areas such as the study of family photography and photo albums, as well as the study of diaries. The following chapters each move further away from the familial point of origin of the home movie and toward regional re-readings and archival reuses. Using “home” as a starting point, Chapter 2 engages with the domestic elements in a selection of home movies shot on a cotton plantation during the late 1930s and early 1940s. Through an expanded notion of home, it argues that work and free time, public and private, and family and nonfamily are intertwined—both onscreen and off. Chapter 3 positions a collection of archival home movies shot in the Mississippi Delta in the 1950s as mediated witness to the ever-presence and—at times—invisibility of institutionalized racism in the mid-century American South. Chapter 4 maps the creative treatment of one collection of archival home movies in contemporary documentaries, museum installations, and experimental films. Finally, Chapter 5 evaluates the activation of home movies as constructed regional reflections in a series of live screenings associated with Home Movie Day.

Previous studies of family photographs and family film have pointed to the ways these media function to obscure discord and present a harmonious picture. Overall, this study of southern home movies demonstrates how a double logic of obfuscation is at work in these films. In addition to a vision of familial harmony, this dissertation argues that the southern home movie also puts forth a vision of racial harmony. This onscreen racial harmony, when presented during the Jim Crow years, should be understood as the result of a specifically white fantasy of racial togetherness that, at the same time, upholds traditional hierarchies.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Media Studies, Stockholm University , 2018. , p. 174
Keywords [en]
Home movies, amateur film, non-theatrical film, moving images, archiving, film archives, American South, Mississippi, Jim Crow, race, whiteness, witnessing, ordinary
National Category
Studies on Film
Research subject
Cinema Studies
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-150663ISBN: 978-91-7797-101-6 (print)ISBN: 978-91-7797-102-3 (electronic)OAI:, id: diva2:1170312
Public defence
2018-02-17, Föreläsningssalen, Filmhuset, Borgvägen 5, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)