Journal article Open Access

Interview: Film History as Media Archaeology

Thomas Elsaesser, Fryderyk Kwiatkowki

The interview centres around Thomas Elsaesser’s book Film History as Media Archaeology and is divided into three thematic blocks. Focusing on the origins of the book and its composition in the first part, the discussion uncovers Elsaesser’s engagement in numerous research initiatives, teaching at the University of Amsterdam, and his contribution to the emerging area of early cinema studies. Further exploration of the latter gives an insight into his views on the development of the discipline and outlines his distinct position in the field of media history. The second part concentrates on Elsaesser’s approach to the study of cinema and its interaction with other media. With the discussion of study cases presented in the book, speakers explore the ways in which non-teleological models can enhance our knowledge of forgotten or obsolete technologies and their origins. Clarifying his position, Elsaesser shows how these approaches also transform our perception of contemporary media and their history, and how digital technology shapes our understanding and the use of past inventions. The conversation within this group of subjects also touches upon hazards and limitations of applying archaeological perspective to studying media history and moves to the speculations on the future of the archaeological approach in the humanities. In the third part, the interview shifts towards broader issues, in particular: the technological transformations in cinema over the last decade, the significance of digital devices in reconfiguring our relationship with the past, and the potential contribution of media archaeology to the development of non-linear historiographical models in scholarship.

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