This post has kindly been written for us by Dr Sian Barber, author of Using Film as a Source (MUP, 2015), the first in the IHR Research Guides Series.
What is the value of studying film? How can feature films tell us anything about the time in which they are made? Why do films look different in different periods? How do films address social issues? And how can film be used as a historical source?
These questions are central to anyone engaged in the study of film. However, film can be used in variety of different ways as part of research; not everyone uses film in the same way. The skills acquired in the fields of history, politics, English literature, sociology, cultural and media studies can all help to use film as ‘historical evidence,’ but the study of film is a discipline in its own right. Film cannot be treated simply as a historical source, but rather needs to be understood as a distinctive medium, possessed of complex visual and textual codes.
This work is intended to provide a starting point for those seeking to use film as part of research. It offers advice on research methods, film-specific theory and methodology and film-based analysis. It draws on the disparate yet frequently complementary disciplines of film and history to offer advice for students and researchers. It is deliberately intended to speak to the preoccupations of those engaged in the study of film, either at undergraduate or Masters levels, as well as those who want to use film as part of research in cognate disciplines such as social and cultural history, politics, modern languages and sociology.
This guide includes sections on working with different kinds of moving images, how to explore visual sources, how to undertake archival film-related research and how to use film theory. It addresses the complexities of studying moving image and the conventional problems associated with using films as sources, as well as broader issues related to film historiography and method. It also includes a number of detailed case studies of individual films. Everything included is intended to be an example of good research practice, whether it is conducting an interview, visiting an archive, undertaking textual analysis or defining a research question.