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ix Foreword For historians, and no doubt for many other people as well, the opportunity to actually see worlds long past through the eyes of contemporaries is the stuff of fantasy—something longed for, perhaps, but hardly imaginable. We toil away in archives, reading through letters, inventories, and descriptions of people and places, and we peer at paintings, maps, plans, and old photographs that offer tantalizing glimpses of the way things looked to observers and storytellers in past years, decades, or even centuries before our own. Thus the survival and diligent preservation of amateur films and home movies, and the scholarly attention given to them by the essays in this collection, are an incomparable gift— accomplishments to be not only supported but also celebrated. Amateur films offer not simply historical “facts” and images from the past, but also stories, narratives , and representations—often tantalizingly brief—of the ideas, values, and dreams of the people who made them. They open up new vistas, enabling us to see the world through long-ago lenses and look through eyes now closed by the passage of time. Through them, loss and absence are magically transformed into animated presence, no matter how fragmentary and brief the view. The study of this medium—as historical artifact, new technology, work of visual art, or dramatic narrative—is indeed rich with possibilities. It is therefore a particular pleasure for the Grace Slack McNeil Program for Studies in American Art at Wellesley College to have been a part of this project since its inception. Thanks to Karan Sheldon, cofounder of Northeast Historic Film, and Martha J. McNamara, director of the New England Arts and Architecture Program at Wellesley College, students of the rich textual and cinematic materials offered by this volume and the accompanying website can not only have access to a wide range of significant examples of the genre, but will also benefit from the careful analysis, personal reflections, and new methodologies offered here. These represent the very best work to date in this area of study. This volume brings together the research of distinguished historians and scholars from a variety of fields, and the essays in this collection cover a wide range of subjects, from preservation, to technologies of production, to the complex analysis of cultural and artistic meanings embedded in the films themselves. Focusing our attention on everyday events and objects, presenting us with the look and “feel” of landscapes, families, work, play, and comedic mise-en-scène, the amateur films studied here open up a vast array of topics and questions, not only about the material culture of the past, but about the medium itself and its x | Foreword capacities for documentation and narrative invention. Issues of privacy and public consumption are inherent in this investigation. So too are questions about gender identity, sexuality, social class, and even humor; indeed, whatever categories and concerns we might find in contemporary social and material culture can be found here. It is thus particularly gratifying that the editors of this volume have seized upon this opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration, bringing together scholars whose cutting-edge strategies of criticism and analysis offer a foundational collection of diverse perspectives on which students, scholars, and media artists can build. Casting light on the relatively new subject of amateur films and home movies through high-quality scholarship, personal reflections, and technical expertise is an endeavor that would no doubt have pleased Robert L. McNeil, founder of the chair and the program at Wellesley College that bear his name. A collector of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American furniture, a student of American painting and architecture, a scientist and an entrepreneur, McNeil was passionate about the need to experiment and innovate through dedicated research, teaching , and public education. His mandate to us was to seek out new perspectives and analyses, look for new avenues of inquiry and new technologies of dissemination , and break new ground in the study of American art. Home movies, like snapshots, photo albums, and other forms of popular visual culture, though long neglected by historians of art and society, clearly represent an exciting new area of research and a vast and still-unexplored treasure trove of original materials worthy of care, preservation, and close examination. Thanks to the commitment of Raina Polivka, Janice Frisch, and the Indiana University Press, this project brings us exciting new scholarship and a range of case studies in a rich and lively format worthy of its subject. This is a significant accomplishment on many...


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