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The authors included in this dossier, Early Cinema in South Asia: The Problem of the Archive , initially grouped as a panel for The Society of Cinema and Media Studies 2013 conference, address the need for more specific methods of conducting research on early cinema in South Asia, but they also reveal broader historio-graphical imperatives for all of us working with similar archival challenges. Indeed, one of the benefits of dossiers such as this is that they operate in multiple registers at once. They sharpen focus on a specific field at the same time that they address methodological questions that speak across specializations. Academic publishing does not always adequately document these exchanges across fields, which occur so often in panel discussions and workshops. I can attest to this personally, as each of the four contributors has influenced my projects on early cinema in the Middle East far more than it is usually possible to acknowledge. My aim here is to help demonstrate the adaptability of their contributions by providing a few points from a neighboring field.

Each of the authors takes up the central question, framed by Neepa Majumdar, of the role of space in the definitions of “early” cinemas. This concerns nearly everyone working in regions where the commercial configurations diverged widely from the most robust film industries, and where drastically less material has survived. Periodization is necessary, but it is of course always contingent on several factors, two of which are particularly relevant for the discussion that follows: those related to the archive and those related to the institutions of film study. The typical demarcation of 1915 as the outer limit of early cinema has opened up countless lines of inquiry into European and North American archives, but begins to seem downright arbitrary when simply transplanted from one archive to another and from one part of the world to another. Each of the writers here shows how the 1915 periodization can cut through the middle of, and thus threaten to marginalize, those very phenomena that it was designed to reveal. When used unreflectively, this definition of early cinema forces researchers to give too much weight to the mostly lost material that fits established methods while potentially ignoring the value of what does remain. The growing attention to the diverse spaces of early cinema, to the locations in which films are created, circulated, and archived, requires a more flexible approach to cinema’s chronologies.

There are few who would disagree with this idea of revising the definitions of early cinema for different locations, but to do so would involve taking account of the institutions of film scholarship that have made use of these definitions. On this point, let me offer an example from an organization on whose executive committee I currently serve. Domitor, the International Society for the Study of Early Cinema, held its 2012 conference in Brighton to commemorate the influential 1978 Brighton FIAF conference. The opportunity to reflect on the history of the organization and on this historical turn in cinema studies, with talks by some who participated in the 1978 conference, was particularly satisfying for those of us who have come to the field more recently. Presenters reflected on the 1915 boundary as part of an institutional turn designed to highlight aspects of film history left out of the canonical histories written by Georges Sadoul and Lewis Jacobs. One important goal was to bracket cinema’s industrial norms as a way of gaining traction in unexplored archives and, indeed, to broaden our sense of what can comprise these archives. It has resulted in an expanded sense of moving-image performance that embraces the ephemeral lectures, songs, lantern slides, and devices of different media ecologies. The majority of this research has focused on Europe and North America, but regardless of which regions have seen the majority of research, the advantages of this shift in methodology for histories of other cinemas have been clear. Some encounter with this change in perspective has influenced all of the contributors here at the institutions where we attended graduate school, which include the University of Indiana, New York University, University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Chicago.

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