KEY READINGS: Talal Asad on ‘Cultural Translation in British Social Anthropology’

Cultural Translation and academic appropriation

Talal Asad’s essay, ‘The Concept of Cultural Translation in British Social Anthropology’ is one of the key reference points for contemporary thinking around cultural translation.

In the briefest of terms, Talal’s piece responds to a tendency within social anthropology to explain other cultures in terms the researcher already understands. For example, rather than attending to the very specific nuances in the attitudes an indigenous tribe might hold towards holy days or religious festivals, social anthropologists tended  to spot a ‘hidden pattern’ that told him or her about the tribe’s wider religious attitudes, their belief in a system of gods/God, etc. This might not be a problem if the tribe has an understanding of God that matches the anthropologists’ ideas, or indeed if there is a hidden and connected system of meaning that links an idea of God to a holy day to a festival together, or if there is a religion underlies their activities and cements it together conceived in the way an anthropologist conceives it. But this, in Asad’s view, is often not the case.  By ‘detecting’ a pattern of meaning or correspondence between otherwise discreet elements the anthropologist has imposed  their own frame of reference.

For those familiar with poststructuralist/postmodernist theory, this type of cultural translation, which might also be called cultural appropriation, should be immediately recognisable. Asad was after all writing in the 80s, when French thinkers like Foucault and Derrida started to have an impact on a wide range of disciplines. But interestingly Asad extends the argument I set out above to suggest that, in fact, this essentially reductive practice of cultural translation is institutional.  Scholars, he says, habitually take materials gained in the field and, consciously or unconsciously, translate them into a language they understand – that of their own society and culture, yes, but sometimes even into terms of the academy, academic discourse, the norms and terms of the discipline. In our fictional example, this would be the assumption of a network of meaning that can be unpacked and presented to scholars in the West. In doing so, in finding neat objects of study in other cultures that are ready to be exported in academic papers, monographs, etc, the anthropologists also erase the specificities they encounter. He calls this ‘cultural translation’. Asad holds up a significant paper by Ernest Gellner as emblematic of cultural translation:

‘Although it is now many years since Gellner’s paper was first published, it represents a doctrinal position that is still popular today. I have in mind the sociologism according to which religious ideologies are said to get their real meaning from the political or economic structure, and the self-confirming methodology according to which this reductive semantic principle is evident to the (authoritative) anthropologist and not to the people being written about. This position therefore assumes that it is not only possible but necessary for the anthropologist to act as translator and critic at one and the same time. I regard this position as untenable, and think that it is relations and practices of power that give it a measure of viability.’ (p. 164)

What’s perhaps more damning is the use amongst anthropologists of a certain academic rhetoric intended on giving objectivity and uniformity to the field.

‘What we have here is a style easy to teach, to learn, and to reproduce (in examination answers, assessment essays, and dissertations). It is a style that facilitates the textualization of other cultures, that encourages the construction of diagrammatic answers to complex cultural questions, and that is well suited to arranging foreign cultural concepts in clearly marked heaps of “sense” or “nonsense.” Apart from being easy to teach and to imitate, this style promises visible results that can readily be graded. Such a style must surely be at a premium in an established university discipline that aspires to standards of scientific objectivity. Is the popularity of this style, then not a reflection of the kind of pedagogic institution we inhabit?’ (p. 164)

Asad’s point isn’t simply that some anthropologists code other cultures in terms they understand. It’s that the entire discipline, its conventions, institutional practices, and discursive tendencies, is complicit in the practice.

How is it useful for us?

Cultural translation is handy because it very quickly and clearly describes a wide-spread phenomenon, something that takes place at an institutional level, affects the style and mode by which we as scholars communicate, and is tuned in to power relations. It is easy therefore to see how cultural translation is a manifestation of a more general imperialist tendency in Western culture. Scholars who are interested in culture that travels to and from the West will want to take note.

Asad’s critique also forces us to attend to our own writing. Are there assumptions within the way we write that promote or conceal power relations in some way? What are the assumptions we make as media and culture scholars? Are there ways in which we ‘translate’ the culture we examine back into terms (only) academics understand, and, if we do this, if this is part and parcel of scholarship itself, what are the consequences for those more intimately involved in this culture than us?

The idea of cultural translation as an institutional phenomenon is particularly useful for studies that wish to relate individual practices up to broader structural frameworks (see, for example, work in the Creative Industries). Cultural translation, at least in one of its first formulations, is not something that takes place on the intersubjective level alone. Asad’s approach forces us to consider how institutions, organizations, groups, might practice cultural translation.


Asad, Talal. “The concept of cultural translation in British social anthropology.” Writing culture: The poetics and politics of ethnography 1 (1986): 141-164.

GUEST POST: Esperança Bielsa on ‘Linguistic Hospitality’

by Dr Esperança Bielsa

(this is an extract from E Bielsa and A Aguilera, ‘Politics of Translation: A Cosmopolitan Approach’, European Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology, 4:1, 7-24.)

The fundamental ethnocentrism of translation, the reductive tendency that is present in any culture, makes it necessary to formulate a politics of translation in any cosmopolitan project. A politics of translation based on the ethical purpose of translating, which according to Berman is to open up in writing a certain relation with the other, to fertilize what is one’s own through the mediation of what is foreign. Invoking Derrida’s notion of hospitality, Ricoeur has stated that translators can find happiness in what he calls linguistic hospitality, appealing to a regime of correspondence without adequacy that does not erase the irreducibility of the pair of what is one’s own and what is foreign. Only linguistic hospitality understood as an absolute or unconditional hospitality that lets the strangeness of the foreign tongue arrive and does not hide it under a pretended equivalence or false familiarity will make it possible to fertilize what is one’s own through the mediation of what is foreign. Absolute hospitality, as Derrida points out, breaks with the law of hospitality as a right or as a duty. Beyond the obvious reason that an ethical translation of the other, that is, a translation that does justice to the difference of the other, is not contemplated in any regime of rights, one would need to approach a politics of translation based on linguistic hospitality as a responsibility and not as a right. In many instances, this responsibility not only anticipates the law, or is even positioned in certain cases against the norm so that justice can be done, but refers to the circumstances and conditions in which genuine communication can be established. This cannot be articulated from a rights based approach, which approves of any type of communication as long as nobody’s rights are infringed.

An identity that reveals a glimpse of linguistic hospitality could avoid an identity that autoimmunizes itself in processes of closure, of a repetition that is assumed to be eternal but is still ephemeral and fragile, only less flexible and often less resistant and capable of survival. What at the philogenetical level distinguishes intelligence from instinct is not much more than this flexibility, which is impossible to sustain through the preservation of a dogmatic core of origins and essence that the old identitarian identity serves as an idol. There is no lasting tradition that is not renewed by the foreign. Linguistic hospitality allows for this innovation without parting blindly with what deserves to be preserved. Thus, linguistic hospitality could be the core of a politics of translation that is open to the foreign, neither closed nor absolutely open. Where Derridean hospitality would invoke a negative theology without any remaining borders, and where Habermasian tolerance would demand equality across borders, a politics of translation centred on linguistic hospitality draws a porous border in a cosmopolitan space. It really follows a perspective that has led the last Derrida to preserve a minimal nation-state in an international context, and Habermas to insist on a cosmopolitan constitution with few remaining borders. In its short distance from real hospitality, such politics of translation could give social shape to welcoming foreignness, conform it in language, that material of our wakefulness and dreams, of collective longing, that has modified and stirs our flesh, sending it beyond a spirit conceived as mere ideality, beyond culture as a mere symbolic game.

About the contributors:

Antonio Aguilera is Associate Professor at the Department of Philosophy of the University of Barcelona. He is the author of Hombre y cultura (Trotta 1996) and of introductions to Adorno’s Actualidad de la filosofía (Paidós 1991) and Gehlen’s Antropología filosófica (Paidós 1993). He has published articles on Benjamin and Adorno, and book chapters on aesthetics, ethics and violence, time and history, memory and forgetting, etc.
 Esperança Bielsa is Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. She is the author of Cosmopolitanism and Translation (Routledge 2016) and The Latin American Urban Crónica (Lexington Books 2006), co-author, with Susan Bassnett, of Translation in Global News(Routledge 2009), and co-editor, with Christopher Hughes, of Globalization, Political Violence and Translation (Palgrave Macmillan 2009).

KEY READINGS: Anthony Pym on Cultural Translation

Below, you can find a very clear and insightful lecture on the topic of cultural translation by Distinguished Professor of Translation and Intercultural Studies Anthony Pym.  It’s a relatively short lecture but great viewing if you’re after a neat summary of cultural translation as a field.

It touches on some of the key threads that run through how we understand cultural translation, namely the social anthropologist angle (started with Talal Asad’s critique of Western social anthropology) and the postcolonial approach (put forward by Homi Bhabha).

CLUSTER STATEMENT: Cultural Translation in the Creative Industries

Each of the six research clusters at BCMCR have produced a statement on what cultural translation means for researchers in their area. The statement for the Creative Industries cluster is as follows:

“Scholars of the Creative Industries might explore cultural translation via the process of cultural intermediation, in the worlds of art, commerce, policy and practice. This could mean researching a group that helps translate arts policies into practicable, comprehensive terms for creative practitioners, specifically to address a lack of diversity in the cultural sector. It could also refer to creative and entrepreneurial practices, such as notions of expertise, online activities and entrepreneurial identities.”


You can find specific examples of research from creative industries scholars at BCU  here.

SEMINAR SERIES: Dima Saber on ‘Resistance-by-Recording’ part 1

Dima presented her talk as part of the Seminar Series. You can find part 2 here and part 3 here. 

Resistance-by-Recording: The disappearing archives of the Syrian war 

by Dima Saber

The overall aim of this project is to explore the successes and potentialities as well as limitations and challenges that camera-related practices bring to the objectives of contemporary protest movements across the Arab world.  We’re looking at 4 main countries of focus Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Yemen.

The project advances a media-practice based approach – with ethnographic field studies – in order to explore and theorize how variously situated activists creatively and strategically use digitally networked cameras and images to address local concerns – within the boundaries of existing media ecologies that offer different opportunities and constraints in each particular setting. Each context generates specific needs, and local actors will modify and renew their image-making strategies to address these shifting needs.

Activists not only use cameras to speak truth to power, but to realize or produce themselves as political subjects and negotiate exactly what such a subjectivity may be and can do.  In thus re-centring the agency of human beings over technologies, a critical purpose of the project is also to explore the meanings that practices of creating, distributing, editing, sharing, viewing and archiving images acquire for differently located participants.  This is to say that the project attends to political image production also as subjective, embodied and performative practice.

How do you create an image that is not pre-defined by official imagery? I want to explore Arab-image activism as counter-images – as a response to the complete suffocating and constraining aspect of existing images as depicted through the Western neo-colonial stereotyping gaze, and/or through regime-controlled imagery. At the same time I want to question the assumption that grassroots practices would produce a different, new, original, more authentic images of Arab revolt, war, conflict, etc.

I want to ask:

  1. What drives people to risk everything to create and mobilize rebellious images? What are their motivations, hopes, desires, lived experiences, affects, then and now?
  2. To what extent, and in what particular ways, are the planning, publicizing and performance of political actions dependent on – both shaped by, and shaping – practices of image making? (How camera-based strategies and tactics are mutually shaping of activists’ larger routines and repertoires of defiance)
  3. What are the various considerations do activists/archivists articulate about how images are made, and why; about how they are delivered, displayed and re-purposed? About their intended audience(s)? What kinds of political outcome do they hope for vs. what they hoped to achieve back then when they were documenting the uprisings as they were happening, and how do they see the value of their archives and images today, seven years into the uprising.
  4. What are the main obstacles and limitations they are facing, such as lack of cultural translation and resonance, over-reliance on corporate platforms, the precariousness of the digital
  5. How do activist camera-mediated practices in the Arab world help organize new formations of political connectivity within, across and beyond the region?  How are people connected – or not? How do they work together – or not? I’m interested here in exploring the economy and politics of collaboration.
  6. What are the ethical aspects of creating distributing, displaying and archiving this imagery? Looking for example at Western institutions’ codified ethical guidelines (news industry! BBC, Al Jazeera etc.) vs. how the activists organise themselves: their own sense of ethics?
  7. What are the various forms of connections and circulation between specific geographical places and online spaces? How, precisely, are online and offline activities important to each other?

Continue to part 2 here.

Dima is Senior Researcher and Lecturer at the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research. 

SEMINAR SERIES| Sid Peacock on ‘Surge in Spring’

As a way of exploring cultural translation in jazz, Sid Peacock presented Surge in Spring as an example of the way a jazz festival might lend itself to a melting pot of cultural influences.

This video will give you both a flavour of the festival and a window into the way it is saturated with examples of cultural translation. It’s a marvellous example of the way in which a cultural form such as jazz serves as the medium for creativity and cultural transformation.

Thanks, Sid, for allow us to share the video.

KEY READING: Sarah Maitland’s ‘What is Cultural Translation’ (2017)

In these posts, I’ll set how I understand some of the key texts that explore cultural translation, and why I think they are important for understanding the concept. 

Maitland, Sarah. What is cultural translation? Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017.

Sarah Maitland’s (Goldsmiths) 2017 book What is Cultural Translation is one of the only monographs that sets out to define cultural translation in precise terms that I have been able to find. Maitland’s background is in translation studies, and as such she attends not only to the state of cultural translation’s usage in wider academia but also to its place within what might be considered ‘traditional’ (inter-textual or interpretative) translation. Her book provides a valuable guide to a complex term that, in her own words, is often theorised in contradictory ways.

In this series of blog posts I want to draw out what I find interesting and useful about Maitland’s work. She conducts a particularly fascinating genealogy of the term ‘cultural translation’ itself, helpful in delineating the key ideas involved in the term. Finally, by locating the topic firmly within translation, I want to use Maitland’s work as a springboard to discuss and develop my own work.

Maitland’s approach

Maitland works within what could very broadly be called a poststructuralist approach to communication, and sets her arguments off with reference to Richard Rorty. In particular, she explores his idea of a ‘liberal ironist’. The liberal ironist is essentially an ethical agent or actor who takes an ironic approach to the complexities of modern life, specifically, someone who both affirms a view that the prevention of cruelty is the highest human endeavour, and, at the same time, understands that all ideas and ethics are shaped by their cultural context. Rorty is a good frame for her arguments, I think, as viewing the cultural translator in terms of a liberal ironist helps the reader get at one of her central points: cultural transition is shaped by attendance to both 1) a transcendent political or ethical concern for the wellbeing of the other, and 2) to the awareness of contingency and context.

This gives cultural translation an ethical/political zest right off the bat. Cultural translation is not simply a description of some nebulous process whereby culture ‘moves’ in some way from one context to another. Rather, it is linked to how a person or a subject interacts with other people, and specifically the ‘other’ person, on a fundamental level. Her approach goes on to raise familiar questions of representation. In processes of (cultural) translation, we  confront the fact that we, as subjects, have no direct access to the other’s mind, their experiences, histories, and so on. How do we speak to and about the other without this access? Mapping the unfamiliar other out in terms we already recognise risks simply reproducing what we know while ignoring their specificities – which, as the On Translations conference was keen to stress, often constitutes an act of (colonial) violence.

But Maitland is also a practicing interpreter and translator and has in my view a practical approach to these question. She uses Paul Ricoeur’s thinking on translation, as well as his ideas on the hermeneutic process, as a philosophical ground for her definition of cultural translation, and sets out the following points:

  1. Meaning is always produced in the communicative act, rather than transferred from one person to another. This means it is also always dependent on or determined in relation to context (the immediate social environment, the broader historical and political situation, the identity positions of the speakers, and so on).
  2. As part of that production, the speakers involved create themselves as subjects. This follows for both parties in any communication (in other words the self is created at the same time as, with, and through, the other).
  3. The subject actively engages in working out how best to communicate with the other. For Maitland, this involves working out what the other knows as best he or she can and then tailoring the information they present to what they think the other will understand or respond to.
  4. At the same time, any knowledge the subject obtains from the other will always be filtered through the subject’s specific perspective, determined by it’s judgements, values, and so on.
  5. This process is dynamic rather than a one-time only activity – it goes on, constantly, as we talk to and about other people. It is bound up with the ‘hermeneutic process’, that is, the daily activity of interpretation that we engage with all the time.

Maitland writes:

If, at base, hermeneutics is what we do in life, cultural translation is the purposeful orientation of the hermeneutic dimension of life towards meaningful action and the transformation of the purposeful self.” Maitland, p.10

Essentially, Maitland locates a translation-type process at the heart of all interpersonal communication. This radical approach means that the underlying mechanics of translation shouldn’t simply be considered as relevant to professional translators but, in fact, are rather familiar and mundane, traceable as she suggests within a very broad range of interpersonal activity, and bound up with the constant process of interpretation and investigation we engage in when we encounter other people.

One ethical consequence is that it forces us to attend to both what does not translate (and is ‘erased’ in the process of translation) but also to affirm that things do translate too, in an every-day sort of sense. This would seem to develop and critique the somewhat pessimistic view that sees cultural translation as founded on the misapprehension of the other.

It also makes Maitland’s approach, in my mind, both theoretically sophisticated and practical. It runs on the premise that although we cannot ever fully understand another person in our own terms, in conversation (and so in ‘cultural translation’) we nevertheless shuttle back and forth between what we understand of our own experience and what we learn of the other’s experiences. So, although we can’t every translate the total meaning of text, or know the full extent of an cultural object before it is exposed to a process of translation, we nonetheless do constantly work and rework at translating ourselves and others into terms of mutual, if always partial, understanding. As such Maitland’s work gives us a theoretical insight into the manifold ways in which cultural translation occurs, and, more importantly, provides a way forward for applying the term to cultural and media research.


SEMINAR SERIES History, Heritage & Archives | Cultural Translation, History and Loss

Dima Saber’s research paper ‘Resistance-by-recording: the visuality and visibility of contentious political action in the Arab region’

by Simon Crisp

In the first of three History, Heritage & Archives BCMCR seminars, Dr Dima Saber and Dr David Gange tackled the topic of cultural translation, history and loss by talking about some of their respective recent and on-going projects.

Dima started the event talking about the ‘Resistance-by-recording: the visuality and visibility of contentious political action in the Arab region’ project, which explores how variously situated activists use camera-related practices in their struggles for rights, along with the issues of distribution and archive and a re-centring of the agency of human beings over technologies. David then presented his project ‘Sea-Sites in Island History: Exploring the Lost Communities of Atlantic Britain and Ireland’ which had seen him kayak the Atlantic coasts of the British Isles exploring and documenting the culture, history and archives of those coastlines and the communities which have resided there.

Both talks were fascinating in their own right and spoke of issues of history, archive, and loss. David’s accounts of the alternative histories of modernity on the coast were particularly striking for me in the way in which they question the cultural perspectives and dominant visions of British and Irish history, along with the unique access and outlook afforded by approaching these locations from the sea. However, I will focus here on how Dima’s talk prompted me to think about, and question, the idea of Cultural Translation.

Having briefly heard about Resistance-by-recording at a Journalism Activism, Community research seminar last year, I was expecting my thoughts about how the project relates to ideas of cultural translation to be based on the way in which it works across borders, how activists in different situations use varying digital media practices, and how they collaborate with each other. But, as Dima talked about issues raised during an ethnographic research trip to Berlin, and a recent Stockholm roundtable, I found my focus shifting to questioning cultural translation and the digital.

Dima said YouTube’s increasing use of algorithms to identify and limit what was considered to be Jihadi supporting propaganda had become a major issue for the project and the digital activists involved. YouTube’s identification and removal of videos, and channels can now be done with no human interaction and has caused digital activists to change their focus from documenting human rights violations to archiving and preserving historically and culturally significant footage which may get removed or deleted.

Suggestions to insert a human-led stage into the process whereby somebody who understands Arabic and knows the context would be able to distinguish between a terrorist propaganda video and evidence of a human rights violation, raise further questions about the translation of culture into the digital. While algorithms can be used to analyse and recognise, they still cannot understand and translate what they are identifying into other contexts and histories. They are not culturally aware but have been given the power to wipe from voices and memories from history. Thinking about this has left me with more questions about how the idea of cultural translation can be used not just when exploring movements across borders or between languages, but also into the digital.

Finally, another point I found particularly interesting was the questioning of the role of research and academics, and Dima’s suggestion of acting as a facilitator – or put another way a translator – between the activists and the tech companies on whose platforms they rely. It was said that this could be done by using the power of an academic network to get people around the same table or writing papers which will be helpful to tech companies, but that also address the issues impacting the activists.

Simon Crisp is a MA student at Birmingham City University. 

SEMINAR SERIES: Jazz Studies | Melinda Maxwell on ‘Crossing Lines and Sharing Spaces’

Crossing Lines and Sharing Spaces

by Melinda Maxwell

The lines to cross and the spaces to share are affiliated to music that lives in the moment, exists in the spaces between the notes, and is driven by instinct. As a classically trained musician my in-roads into jazz improvisation have re-awakened this inner space. I have always enjoyed improvising but now I am thinking about melodic and harmonic structures that can enrich my improvising activity as a composer and player. The inner space led by the ear has become embedded in my performing, teaching and practicing.

Today in the classical world there is a bridge over this inner space that connects composers and players. That bridge is notation. It was exceedingly common until about the early 19th century for composers to play and vice versa. A cultural change began when composers wanted their own specific notes to be played and not those of an improviser. The notation of musical language became more complex in its instructions, so much so that in the 20th and 21st centuries the sheer look of a score could resemble a Jackson Pollock abstract expressionist painting with its complex layers of texture. The style in music that has similarities to this expression has been labeled New Complexity. Composers such as Brian Ferneyhough, James Dillon and Richard Barrett compose music whose notation is on information overload.

There is a wealth of instructions to distil and internalize before a note is sounded. Sometimes there is not enough time to garner all that is needed for performance and the eye is forced to wing what it sees and choose the right path in which to steer the music. This has its own energy and drive but it puts the player in a curiously restricted space. The instinct is more aligned to the eye than the ear. If one were to transcribe a free improvisation by Evan Parker the notation would most probably look identical, but the two methods of music making are worlds apart, and even if you were to learn and play the Evan Parker transcription it wouldn’t quite live up to the energy of the original because the notation “bridge” restricts and adversely changes the immediacy in communication of an improvisation.

My improvisation on the opening oboe solo of Octandre (1923) by Edgar Varèse is an attempt to link these two worlds of composer and player. It is a gesture of reverence for the music, a way of getting under its skin. Making sister versions by ear deepens the understanding of the original. I have performed it many times and often felt the tempo marking too fast. But, classical musicians are trained to stick to what the notation dictates. Tempo is an elusive thing and trying to fix it can cause problems for the music’s character. I know from my own work with living composers that they are aware tempi can be affected by many things, not least different acoustics, but there is a need to be as precise as possible, because once it’s written down, it’s “fixed”.

For me the opening solo of Octandre feels like a blues with its soulful falling minor ninths, minor sevenths and whole-tones. My instinct says it needs space to breathe and express itself and this seems to open up the inner space and crosses the line into where the music begins to live of its own accord and carry its own momentum. Certainly, I would like to think that Varèse  (who attended jazz concerts in New York in the late 1950s and invited jazz musicians to his home to improvise using his graphic notation) would grant my wish to explore the instinctual aural space between his notes.

Melinda’s paper was delivered on 28 February 2018 as part of the BCMCR Seminar Series

THIS WEEK: Nick Hall and Andrew Flinn on ‘Public History and Historical Reconstruction’

BCMCR Research Seminar | History, Heritage and Archives
Archives, Public History and Historical Reconstruction
1600-1730 Wednesday 21 March
P424, Parkside, Birmingham City University
Free registration at this link

Dr. Nick Hall (Royal Holloway) – ADAPT: Using hands-on technological simulation to communicate television’s clockwork past to future digital users

The tools required to make and share moving images are ubiquitous in the developed world. Smartphones and high-speed wireless internet connections enable users to shoot video and share the results globally. The ease and speed of the digital age has multiplied the potential producers and audiences of video. Similar technological changes have changed the television industry beyond recognition: digital tapeless acquisition and desktop editing are now dominant technologies across genres.

Television production has always been somewhat opaque to audiences, but the recent growth in portable consumer video recording technology further obscures the mechanical and manual foundations of television production practice. As recently as the 1960s, a great deal of television footage was shot and recorded using clockwork film cameras, magnetic audio recorders, and analogue video tape. Shows were edited by hand with the aid of a wide range of mechanical editing aids. Assistant editors performed complex jobs now simplified by non-linear editing software suites such as Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere.

In the age of digital cameras and desktop video editing, the manual work of television production is at risk of being forgotten. Analogue technologies and workflows are increasingly incomprehensible to new generations raised on the smartphone and tablet. To remedy this, ADAPT – a five year research project funded by the European Research Council and led by Prof. John Ellis at Royal Holloway, University of London – is carrying out extensive research designed to capture and animate the hidden histories of historic television production.

ADAPT’s central innovation is to carry out a series of simulations in order to show how arrays of technological devices were used by teams of skilled professionals to make, edit, and broadcast television in the United Kingdom between 1960 and 2010. The project reunites teams of veteran television personnel – including camera operators, sound recordists, and film editors – with obsolete equipment, and captures the results as the subjects re-encounter equipment they have not used for decades.

This presentation will include footage captured during recent simulation exercise, which demonstrate how 16mm television footage was shot and edited during the 1960s. The presentation will address the manifold opportunities and methodological challenges associated with this novel mode of “hands-on” oral history, and consider the ways in which memories of past television production may be translated and interpreted for contemporary audiences.

Dr. Andrew Flinn (UCL) – Digging Where We Stand: community-based archives & participatory approaches to archiving and knowledge production

Drawing upon the speaker’s extensive experience of working with community archives and study of participatory knowledge productive practices this talk will contend that the history and practice of community-based archives suggests that rather than centres for preservation of culture many of these participatory approaches represent an activist agenda of use and knowledge production. The talk will use the framework of Lindqvist’s Dig Where You Stand manifesto and examples of social movement approaches to archiving and the useful past to illustrate the motivations, objectives and activities of both mainly physical and digital archives. The talk will conclude by raising some questions about the challenges and future of these participatory archives.

About the speakers:

Dr. Andrew Flinn is a Reader in Archive Studies and Oral History at University College London and author, recently of ‘Working with the past: making history of struggle part of the struggle’ in Reflections on Knowledge, Learning and Social Movements: History’s Schools, eds Choudry & Vally (2018).

 Dr. Nick Hall is a research officer in the Department of Media Arts at Royal Holloway (University of London). He works on on the ADAPT project which examines the historical development of British television broadcast production technology. His research specialisms include early postwar American television history and cinematography and British postwar television history. A book based on his research into the history of the zoom lens in American film and television – The Zoom: Drama at the Touch of a Lever will be published by Rutgers University Press in 2018.