Ten Years of Screening the Past

Ten years of Screening the Past is reason for congratulation and celebration! But it also merits some reflection. The news that the journal has been going for a decade has come as a shock to me, because it really does feel like it all began just yesterday. However, that is simply a sign of my age! Of more general significance is the achievement of the journal itself. Despite its name, for me, Screening the Past has always been all about the future.

First, Screening the Past has been prescient about the field. Film and television history has gone from strength to strength. It has been transformed from a relatively neglected area to once again not just a mainstay but also an area where the central concepts underpinning the field are being reinvented. Just pause and think about how central work on early cinema such as that of Tom Gunning and Miriam Hansen has become to rethinking what cinema is in the age of the digital, and you will understand what I mean.

Second, Screening the Past has been ahead of the game in its willingness to think with an expanded understanding of cinema that includes video, television, and other digital screen-based media. Now, post-Lev Manovich, Sean Cubitt, and every other person you can think of who has written on “new media,” the need to acknowledge and address the lack of absolute ontological distinctions is well established. But that was not the case ten years ago. And, I might add, it is often still not true in many of the central and prestigious academic centres of film and television study.

Third, Screening the Past was one of the first fully refereed e-journals in the field. Its amazing range of output, ranging from new articles to re-prints of classics all the way through to copious book reviews, has demonstrated all the benefits of the relatively elastic and low-cost environment of the e-journal. Of course, although going online may have reduced the dollar costs involved, none of us should lose sight of the human labour that makes the journal happen. We are all be grateful to Anna, Rick, Peter and their colleagues for enduring commitment to Screening the Past, without which it would not have been able to continue.

Finally, I look back over ten years of Screening the Past from the perspective of my own journey since then. Having moved from La Trobe to the United States and now to the United Kingdom, I have become aware again of how peripheral Australia looks to the rest of the world. But I am also reminded of how productive the so-called periphery can be. If Screening the Past is all about the future, then a “backwater” can be at the forefront of new developments.

Between leaving La Trobe and a year or two ago, I was working with Mary Farquhar on China on Screen: Cinema and Nation. Researching different theories and histories of the nation, one of the first things that caught my eye in Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities was where the modern nation-state originated – not in Europe, not even in the United States, but in the distant colonies of Latin America.

If you talk about setting up an e-journal in the supposed centres of the academic world, you can be told that reputable scholars will not publish important work in such places, refereed or not. Screening the Past has long disproved that. It is also crucial to remember that, as far as I can recall, no one associated with the journal ever worried about that. If you talk about re-thinking the discipline beyond high/low and celluloid/video distinctions, you will still encounter resistance in the metropolitan centres. Again, that never happened with Screening the Past in my memory. For ten years now,Screening the Past has been demonstrating once again that the margins is where you find the cutting edge.

Created on: Saturday, 15 December 2007