Media History Digital Library

The Media History Digital Library, of which you will have read much if you are a regular here, now has a proper website. The MHDL is a non-profit initiative established by film archivist and historian David Pierce to digitise classic film and media-related journals and directories that are in the public domain, making them freely available for public access online. The journals come from variety of personal and institutional collections, with the donors including Robert S. Birchard, Eileen Bowser, Dino Everett, Richard Koszarski, Bruce Long, Nancy Goldman/Pacific Film Archive Library and Film Study Center, David Pierce, Rick Prelinger and Karl Thiede. Pierce is the director of the MHDL, Eric Hoyt of the School of Cinematic Arts, University of Southern California the Digitization Co-ordinator, and Wendy Hagenmaier of University of Texas Information School the Digital Archivist. All scanning and hosting is undertaken by the Internet Archive.

There are already over 200,000 pages digitised, and much more to follow. The journals for which there are extensive runs available are:

Business Screen (1938-1973)
The Film Daily (1918-1936)
International Photographer (1929-1941)
Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers (1930-1949)
Journal of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (1950-1954)
The Educational Screen (1922-1962)
Moving Picture World (1912-1918)
Photoplay (1917-1940)
Radio Age: Research, Manufacturing, Communications, Broadcasting, Television (1942-1957)
Radio Broadcast (1922-1930)

while those for which there are select holdings, and the directories available, are:

Educational Film Magazine (1920-1922)
Exhibitors Trade Review (1921-1922)
Film Spectator (1928)
Harrison’s Reports (1948)
Hollywood Reporter (1934)
Hollywood Reporter Production Encyclopedia (1948-1952)
Home Movies & Home Talkies (1932-1934)
International Motion Picture Almanac (1938)
Kinematograph Year Book (1931-1954)
Motion Picture Classic (1920)
Motion Picture Daily (1931-1934)
Motion Picture News Blue Book (1930)
Motion Picture News Booking Guide (1929)
Motion Picture Story Magazine (1913)
Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual (1921)
Motography (1915)
Non-Theatrical Film Catalogues (1936)
Picture Stories Magazine (1914-1915)
See and Hear: The Journal on Audio-Visual Learning (1945-1953)
Television Programming Catalogues (1957)
The Film Daily Year Book of Motion Pictures (1923-1963)
The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science: thee Motion Picture in Its Economic and Social Aspects (1926)
The Film Daily Presents the Product Guide and Director’s Annual (1937)
The Motion Picture Almanac (1929)
The Optical Lantern and Cinematograph Journal (1904-1905)
The World Film Encyclopedia (1933)
Who’s Who on the Screen (1920)

Many of these we have already described and championed at the Bioscope, and there’s no need to go through the details once again. The new website describes the collections, admirably, most helpfully dividing them up into curated section with useful background histories, under the themes of Hollywood Studio System Collection (1918-1948), Fan Magazines (1914-1940), Early Cinema Collection (1904-1918), Year Book Collection (1922-1963), Broadcasting Collection (1922-1957), Non-Theatrical Film Collection (1920-1973) and Technical Journals Collection (1929-1954).

This is not just a website to promote the existence of the project, but a properly functioning online library in itself. It presents the works and their contexts. There is a particularly informative and well-illustrated blog, written by Pierce, focussing on aspects of the collections; a forum awaiting new members, FAQs, a promised links section, and an invitation to asist in sponsoring further digitisation. A $1,000 contribution will support the scanning of 10,000 magazine pages, which is around a year for most of these publications. Among the titles awaiting sponsorship are The Film Daily, Motion Picture Daily, Motion Picture Herald, Radio Daily, Cine-Mundial, Broadcasting, Exhibitors Trade Review, Motion Picture News, Moving Picture World and The Hollywood Reporter. Some of these have been particually digitised, as indicated, but the full run remains to be completed.

More is promised from the site, aside from further digitised content. They intend to develop an Advanced Search to allow customisable searvches across multiple publications, volumes and years, which is going to be a huge boon to researchers. More on that when it appears. Meanwhile, individual journals and volumes are already word-searchable.

As Pierce’s blog shows, there is huge quantity of precious information to be mined. The Media History Digital Library represents a real tipping point for film research. We’ve gone beyond the point when it was quite fun to find a few texts available online, to supplement our visits to research libraries and perusing through microfilms. This is the new research library. This is where the bread-and-butter research documentation upon which we all depend is going to be found from now on. This is where we will now make our discoveries, and new kinds of discoveries too, as online research tools leads to new forms of analysis, new associations, and new conclusions. And we’ve only just started.

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