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Regeneration in Digital Contexts: Early Black Film, organized by the Black Film Center/Archive, brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars, moving image archivists, and technology specialists in digital humanities for a two-day conference and workshop held in Bloomington, Indiana November 15-16, 2013.

The conference program will engage participants in discussing and articulating new methodologies and questions emerging through recent scholarship in early black-audience film studies and their broader application to other marginalized media cultures with rich histories of material practice, such as early cinema and experimental film.

The invitational workshop will continue the previous day's agenda by establishing the technological groundwork necessary to enact these modes of inquiry, through re-evaluation of existing best practices and capture technologies for digitization of original motion picture film artifacts; through demonstrations and assessments of existing open-source tools for presenting and analyzing moving image materials online; and through experimental approaches to integrating film among other forms of documentation in dynamic structures for discovery, presentation, and analysis.




Many independent producers and distributors, often regional in scope and short-lived, left behind little documentary evidence from which to reconstruct the terrain of the race movie circuit. Of the hundreds of black-audience films produced since 1905 - most notably by Oscar Micheaux - only a small percentage of original film prints are known to exist. Those that survive are often in fragmentary form or in markedly different versions, demanding close comparative analysis against other prints and documents widely dispersed across various institutions, including local censorship records, film scripts, newspaper accounts, and promotional images.

The Richard E. Norman Collection at the Black Film Center/Archive represents one such fragmentary collection. Richard E. Norman was a black-audience film producer and distributor who was active in the first decades of the 20th century who left behind a comprehensive body of textual and visual records documenting his activities and those of his colleagues in the race movie circuit, along with an array of surviving film prints and negatives, many fragmentary. With significant interest in the collection, the Black Film Center/Archive prioritized enhancing research access and began discussions with interested scholars. Inspired by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill project, Going to the Show, which took an innovative approach to encoding and mapping data about early African American moviegoing, the Black Film Center/Archive considered how a digitial initiative rooted in the Norman Collection might take its direction not from established practice in digital library building, but from the complex questions posed by scholars working most closely with this and related resources. When considering the multiple versions and incomplete fragments of film prints; the clues they bear through edge and frameline annotations, physical cuts and breaks, traces of human and mechanical actors on the artifact; the context established through related documents such as distributor field notes and local censor reports; and the obstacles to understanding present in standard representations of these works in digital contexts, the Black Film Center/Archive recognized the need for a more comprehensive assessment of the scholarly and technical issues underlying such a project.

In addition, the BFC/A drew inspiration from a 2011 article written by Jacqueline Stewart, a participant in the 2013 Regeneration Conference, and Professor at University of Chicago. In "Discovering black film history: Tracing the Tyler, Texas Black Film Collection" Jacqueline Stewart proposed a challenging new avenue for the study of early black-audience motion picture film - an area marked by its scarcity of extant documentation - by identifying unmined evidentiary value in what "we can learn from the singularity of each print...and what any existing print might teach us about the circulation, exhibition, and content of movies in this under-documented film culture. Indeed, when we think of each print as a unique artifact, we are encouraged to reconsider what we think of as a film's 'content. '"

Reconsidering how we define the content of a film print beyond the audiovisual information recorded within the frame, encompassing all of its physical characteristics, markings, and structures as a material artifact, introduces a series of questions bearing on the representation of film as a digital object:

How must we re-evaluate and amend current best practices for digitization of motion picture film which by design omit or obscure physical attributes of the original artifact?

What digital tools might be turned to unconventional uses in representing original film artifacts as static images for close examination and study?

How might this representation of film as a material object offer a conceptual birdge for integrating audiovisual media within a wider network of related visual and textual documentation?




Following the conference in November 2013, the videotaped proceedings will be transcribed, indexed for subject access, and made available though this website. A white paper on the project will also be made available through NEH, on this website, and through IU ScholarWorks.

Principal Project Staff

Project Director Brian Graney

Indiana University Bloomington

Archivist and Head of Public and Technology Services for the Black Film Center/Archive.




Lead Scholar MiChael T. Martin

Indiana University Bloomington

Director of the Black Film Center/Archives

Professor of Communication and Culture and American Studies

Adjunct Professor of Latin American and Caribbean Studies


Project Advisory Board

Will Cowan

Indiana University Bloomington

Advisor, Head, Library Technologies Software Development, IU Libraries


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Allyson Nadia Field

university of California, Los Angeles

Assistant Professor, Department of Film, Television and Digital Media

Faculty Affiliate of the Moving Image Archive Studies program and the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA


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Jan-Christopher Horak

University of CAlifornia, Los Angeles

Director of UCLA Film & Television Archive

Professor for Critical Studies


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Leah Kerr

The Academy Museum of motion pictures

Collections Coordinator



jacqueline Stewart

University of Chicago

Professor, Department of Cinema and Media Studies


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John A. Walsh

Indiana University Bloomington

Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science
Adjunct Assistant Professor of English


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Conference Support Staff

Ardea Smith

Indiana University Bloomington

MLS Student - Advanced Program Certification for Teacher of Library and Media

Graduate Assistant, Black Film Center/Archive


Stacey Doyle

Indiana University Bloomington

Assistant Archivist, Black Film Center/Archive


Nzingha Kendall

Indiana University Bloomington

PhD student, American Studies

Programming Assistant, Black Film Center/Archive


Katrina Overby

Indiana University Bloomington

Doctoral Student, School of Journalism

Graduate Assistant, Black Film Center/Archive

President, Black Graduate Student Association