Introduction to the Media Ecology Project

The Media Ecology Project (MEP) is a digital resource at Dartmouth directed by Prof. Mark
Williams that enables researchers to digitally access archival moving image collections and
contribute back to the archival and research communities through the fluid contribution of
metadata and other knowledge. The Media Ecology Project will enable new research capacities toward the critical understanding of historical media and facilitate a dynamic context of research that develops in relation to its use over time by a wide range of users.

MEP will support and advocate for the essential work of media archives, including the important work currently underway to preserve Dartmouth’s media collections. Our moving image heritage is at enormous risk. Moving image archivists and digital repository advocates are developing solutions to these problems, but we cannot sustain interest in “preservation” without a better sense of the historical value of these materials. “Access” is not enough; new knowledge production is required in order to connect archival materials with audiences and prompt preservation and access efforts. MEP is designed to produce cooperation and efficiency in relation to motivated engagement with academic communities.

MEP connects archives of historical media to researchers in Film and Media Studies and related fields and disciplines. We promote close textual studies of the subject matter, production, reception, and representational practices of media, in relation to research within and across the collections of participating archives. We intend to actualize several literal and metaphorical concepts regarding the ecology of historical media, and especially to support and advocate for the essential work of media archives.

The notion of ecology is central to the project in several ways. Those of us who work on media history recognize all too well that the materiality of historical media is fated. These historic materials simply will not endure, but for the work to preserve and archive them. In a fundamental sense this is a sustainability project: MEP will help to protect and ensure cultural memory in the form of historical media collections.

The specific platforms we have engaged and are working to bridge are 1) Mediathread , a
classroom platform developed at Columbia University, that we are working to augment as a research platform; 2) Scalar , a digital publishing platform developed at The University of
Southern California; and 3) onomy.org , a new online tool which was developed for MEP and will facilitate the creation of controlled vocabularies that can be assigned to online media files. Mediathread and Scalar and onomy.org are integrated within MEP. The Media Ecology Project metadata server sits in between and in relation to these platforms and the participating archives, navigating the import, export, and production of metadata across participating archival content that has been engaged by a scholar or team of scholars. In this way MEP will contribute to the resultant capacities for search and discovery among these media elements in relation to others and realize new forms of research, scholarship, and publication.

The work to develop MEP has grown significantly over the past three years. We were able to schedule and convene an extremely productive symposium devoted to considering the further development of MEP in May 2013, which brought together representatives from many participating archives and institutions. Details of the symposium can be found here. The symposium was successful in producing a series of agreements about the future of the project. We are extremely grateful to the sponsors of that key event: The Leslie Center for the Humanities was the central sponsor in conjunction with The Department of Film and Media Studies, The Dartmouth College Library, Dartmouth Research Computing, and The Neukom Center at Dartmouth. We are very fortunate to have been awarded two successive Neukom Institute CompX grants, which have sustained the building of the architecture for MEP. One key initiative has been the development of a metadata server and the attendant middleware that will mediate and build bridges between the Mediathread and Scalar platforms. This configuration facilitates and maintains quality metadata produced in relation to archival elements. John Bell is building the overall technical architecture for MEP and designed the onomy.org tool for MEP.

MEP has been featured at numerous significant conferences since the foundational 2013
conference at Dartmouth:

MEP was the focus of a dedicated panel at the Association of Moving Image Archivists
Conference in Richmond Virginia (November, 2013); was featured on a panel and a workshop at The Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference in Seattle (March, 2014); was featured on a dedicated panel at an international conference regarding the landmark Orphans Film Symposium in Amsterdam (April, 2014); was presented as part of workshop on linked media tools and scholarship at the Extended Semantic Web Conference (ESWC) in Anassaris, Greece (June, 2014); was featured in a workshop at the DOMITOR Conference on the study of early cinema history, in direct relation to one of our pilot projects (July, 2014); was featured on a panel at the PRELIDA Workshop on Preserving Linked Data in Riva del Garda, Italy (October, 2014); on a panel at the EU Screen XL Conference in Rome (October, 2014), a panel at The Visible Evidence Conference 21 in New Delhi, India (December, 2014), workshops at The Council on Library and Information Resources Conference in Philadelphia (March, 2015), a panel at the Project Arclight Symposium in Montreal (May, 2015), a panel at The Open Repositories Conference in Indianapolis (June, 2015), a panel at the IAMHIST Conference in Bloomington (June, 2015), and a panel at The Moving Image Analytics Conference hosted by The National Library of Sweden in Stockholm (October, 2015). We are developing collaborative outreach in response to each of these very welcome opportunities.

There are four pilot projects currently in development for MEP:

In conjunction with the Library of Congress we are developing a project regarding early silent film era materials, with an emphasis on the historically significant Paper Print collection . The Paper Print collection is the equivalent of the Rosetta Stone for those who study moving image history in relation to visual culture. We have enlisted several members of the renowned DOMITOR research society to participate in this pilot study.

A second pilot study will focus on an important public television program called In the Life,
which assays the history of gay and lesbian lived experience in the United States. The entire run of that program, plus all of the associated materials involved in the production of that program, will be provided and placed online by the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

The most ambitious pilot project being designed in relation to MEP will study historical news materials across several participating archives: newsreels, newsfilm, newscasts, etc. Archives central to the development of this pilot study include Open Vault at WGBH in Boston, The Moving Image Research Collections at The University of South Carolina, and the Peabody Awards Collection at The University of Georgia Special Collections Libraries in addition to the UCLA Film and Television Archive and The Library of Congress.

Very recently we initiated a fourth pilot project in conjunction with the December, 2014
conference presentation about MEP at Visible Evidence 21 in New Delhi. This pilot is focused on historical documentaries at the archives of Films Division, located in Mumbai. Films Division has produced state-sponsored documentary, informational, and experimental cinema since India’s independence in 1947. They are also working to create a national archive that will curate and study the history of Indian cinema overall. We are excited to be working with a dedicated group of international scholars to develop this pilot project.

We know that the work we pursue in realizing the full potential of MEP will contribute
enormously to the transformation of research and scholarship in the 21st century. The process of discovery by which to gain access to these significant yet largely unavailable archival materials, and to pursue collective scholarship about these materials, would not be readily available without a resource such as MEP.

We will enhance the functional discoverability of materials across multiple archives and augment future efforts to produce new forms of digital scholarship about these archival materials. The MEP archival connections are being built on public standards like the Open Archive Initiative and the W3C Open Annotation format. Use of these widely available standards is key to realizing an ecology of applications that encourages bidirectional communication and shares information as peers, working with archives as not only key sources of raw materials but also as advocates for and consumers of new analysis and scholarship.