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  • Is Archiving a Feminist Issue?Historical Research and the Past, Present, and Future of Television Studies
  • Rachel Moseley (bio) and Helen Wheatley (bio)

Historical television studies are flourishing in the UK and elsewhere.1 Such historical research has become increasingly possible as archival material has become available to researchers.2 (This is an increasingly fragile project as contemporary archives have recently been forced to reduce the amount of television they record and preserve.)3

The study of television’s past, therefore, has ramifications for the present and future of television archiving, television scholarship, and, arguably, television itself. It both shapes our understanding of the historical development of the medium and also redefines the methodological approaches of television studies.

In order to make convincing arguments about contemporary women’s programming, such as the British talk/magazine programs This Morning (Granada, 1988–) and Loose Women (Granada, 1999–), or popular “postfeminist dramadies” like Sex and the City (Darren Star Productions/HBO, 1998–2004), television scholars need to be able see where the address, format, representations, and concerns of “the new” originate and how they have developed. We need, in other words, to pay attention to “the old” of television, as well as to “the new.” As the television historian John Corner has argued, this “utilitarian defence” suggests that understanding television’s history offers us a clearer sense of the medium’s present and future: “An enriched sense of ‘then’ produces, in its differences and commonalities combined, a stronger, imaginative and analytically energized sense of now.”4 It is essential, then, that scholars and archivists continue to argue for access to television’s past in order to properly contextualize television’s present and futures.

In her contribution to the Cinema Journal In Focus on the 21st Century Archive, Margaret A. Compton has also proposed that “for those studying television’s women on screen and behind the scenes, no matter how convenient it is to download Desperate Housewives to an iPod, if they also want to study Hi Mom, a show Shari Lewis created and starred in for 1957’s housewives and children, at this point, it will have to be seen in an archive.”5

Here, as we look ahead to our project to uncover some of the unexplored history of television for women in Britain,6 we need to acknowledge the important work that has been done in this area.7 Some of this work, in its address to the conditions of production of women’s television, has shown the value and significance of historical television studies that draw upon archival research as part of their [End Page 152] methodological approach. Our own project aims to develop existing feminist histories of women’s programming, female program makers,8 and women’s viewing practices,9 and calls for a renewed attention to historical work on programming that has guided and/or reflected upon women’s tastes and cultural competences, and that draws attention to women’s labor and creativity. In line with other recent writing about television historiography, we argue that what is needed is a multi-methodological approach to television historiography, an approach in which television historians might draw together strands of the production/text/viewer triumvirate to produce a more holistic picture of the history of television for women.10 Our broad research questions are, then:

  • • What are the gendered gaps in preexisting histories of television?

  • • What has constituted television for women, and how has it conceptualized the female viewer?

  • • What have been the relationships between women and their television?

  • • How has gender been an issue in television production, and how has that changed historically?

  • • What have been the shifts in production practices, and what has produced these shifts?

  • • What kind of methodological framework do we need to reconstruct a history of women’s television?

Such a project raises numerous methodological challenges and questions; for instance, how can one access the historical audience for television? What can we know about the historical conditions of viewing? These are critical questions that are explored at greater length in the work of others,11 but for our purposes here, chief among these is the issue of access to the production and texts of the...


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