Re-Viewing Watergate, Eyes on the Prize, NET Journal, and Cinéma Vérité: A Roundtable on Using a Public Broadcasting Digital Archive

AHA Session 230
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Boulevard C (Hilton Chicago, Second Floor)
Scot A. French, University of Central Florida
Alan Gevinson, Library of Congress
Michelle Kelley, Washington University in St. Louis
Allison Perlman, University of California, Irvine
Amanda Reichenbach, Yale University

Session Abstract

The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 created the public media organizational system that remains operative today. The legislation also mandated the establishment of an archive to serve the system. The Library of Congress and WGBH in Boston currently manage that initiative, The American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB), and have endeavored to make it valuable to scholars, educators, and the general public as well as to broadcasters. This roundtable will explore ways that historians and educators might incorporate the AAPB collection - and audiovisual materials more generally - into research projects and teaching.

AAPB is a digital archive with more than 30,000 files of television and radio programs from the late 1940s to today now available for online viewing and listening at An additional 50,000 files that have been preserved are available for onsite access at the Library of Congress and WGBH, and searchable transcripts have been created. The collection, acquired from more than 100 stations and producers across the U.S., not only provides national news, public affairs, and cultural programming from the past 70 years, but local programming as well. Researchers using the collection have the potential to uncover events, issues, institutional shifts, and social movements on the local scene that have not yet made it into the larger historical narrative. Because of the geographical breadth of the collection, scholars can use it to help uncover ways that national and even global processes played out on the local scene. The long chronological reach from the late 1940s to the present will supply historians with previously inaccessible primary source material to document change over time.

During the roundtable, AAPB representatives will seek input from the audience on ways to make its materials more usable to historians and educators. To stimulate discussion, four historians who have participated in AAPB online projects will discuss their work: an analysis of NET Journal, the flagship public affairs series on noncommercial U.S. television between 1966 and 1970, illuminating how it offered a distinct lens onto racism and how information about the series collected for the AAPB’s National Educational Television cataloging project offers a valuable resource to U.S. historians; an AAPB online exhibit that provides historical context for public television’s evening rebroadcasts of the 1973 Senate Watergate and 1974 House impeachment hearings – coverage that secured a place for national news and public affairs programming on public television when it was threatened – and a discussion of using the nearly complete collection of hearings that now are available online in the exhibit as historical sources; a digital humanities workshop collaboration with students to develop an online AAPB exhibit of complete interviews by key figures from the civil rights era and scholars that were gathered in the 1980s for Eyes on the Prize; and an assessment of ways that public television cinema verité documentaries examining educational, medical, and law enforcement institutions over the past 50 years have conveyed information that might be used to supplement text-based histories of these same institutions.

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