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Television The First Flawed Rough Drafts of History Philip M. Taylor Television, the predominant mass medium of the second half of the twentieth century (at least in industrialized countries) remains largely neglected by historians as a primary archival source. Radio, sometimes referred to as "the forgotten medium," has suffered a similar fate, even though it remains a primary source of news, information, and entertainment for millions ofpeople (especially in developing countries). Where the mass media are concerned, mainstream history has just begun to accept the press and the cinema as legitimate "windows into the past." So what is it about the newer media of broadcasting that generally makes historians nervous about utilizing them in their archival research? Why indeed is it still rare to find a history textbook of the twentieth century—which is distinct from all other centuries before it by virtue of the mass media—that embraces these important forms of communication as a central theme? Typically, there are occasional references or side-glances to the media, but the emphasis tends to remain on those people and events that "make" history rather than on how those people and events were observed, portrayed, and perceived by the rest of humankind. Of course, that relatively recent and growing breed of media historians are more sympathetic to the realization that the mass public are not simply passive observers of history but, via the mass media, are actual participants in the life and times of "the great and the good." But even they get terribly frustrated at the reluctance of so-called mainstream historians to embrace the media as a primary source for how the doings of the few are mediated to the many. Equally, it has to be conceded that they have repeatedly failed to have their research findings integrated into the mainstream of historical research. Television | 245 Media historians and that other, even newer, subspecies—the cultural historian —gather together at conferences and are unanimous in their condemnation that the "big names" do not condescend to attend. When they occasionally do—Stephen Ambrose talking about The Longest Day or AJ.P. Taylor on the Ministry of Information in World War Two—the media historians congregate afterward to whisper about howwhat they havejust heard reveals how much the "big names" do not really understand the media. But is this not due more to the failure of media and cultural historians to drive home their conviction that the media really are significant rather than to the failure of mainstream historians to see what is blatantly obvious to the already converted? Or is it due to the nature of the media themselves? We have long referred to newspapers as "the first rough drafts of history," but most historians would deride social scientists for regarding the press as either a reliable or indeed as a primary source of information. Perhaps, in their heart of hearts, because they do actually understand the media, historians understand that broadcasting suffers from similar deficiencies. There are some well-known logistical obstacles. Broadcasting has developed , whether in its public service or commercial manifestations, as an industry and, as such, it feels no obligation to preserve its output for subsequent scrutiny. Its very immediacy gives it its potency, and within the industrial context, if there is an urge to preserve the output, it is for subsequent repeat broadcasting or for sale to other broadcasters. This is hardly conducive to introducing coherent archival policies. As a result, there is no broadcasting organization anywhere in the world that holds a complete collection of its output from the moment it began transmission. Long-standing organizations like the BBC have large and unique holdings, but they are nonetheless incomplete. And because of the commercial opportunities for selling such material on to other broadcasting organizations, the costs of accessing this material are usually beyond the limited budgets of academic research. As a result, scholarly output about the BBC, for example, is usually confined to research undertaken at the BBC Written Archives Centre at Caversham without the author having actually heard or seen the programming that was heard and seen by the audience at the time. Most historians are still trained to analyze paper documentation, and it is not unnatural that they should feel most at home with the written word. After all, the written word remains their own primary medium for their own professional output. But when program makers with larger budgets access the surviving audiovisual material in order to make "television history," the historians...


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