National Film and Sound Archive : the quest for identity : factors shaping the uneven development of a cultural institution

  • Ray Edmondson

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The project is a historical study, from an interpretivist perspective and with overtones of action research, of a major cultural institution, the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA). It traces its erratic and protracted evolution from 1935,as an entity within the then Commonwealth National Library, to 2008,when it finally gained enabling legislation and independent statutory status. My original contribution to knowledge is in documenting its first in-depth corporate history, in challenging mythology, received wisdom and published accounts particularly of its earlier years, and in shedding new light on causes and effects at its critical transition points. In exploring the reasons for its uneven development and its struggle for identity, the study also considers the attendant risks for the national audiovisual heritage, the losses which have been a consequence of those risks, and the lessons which may be learned. The evidential basis for the study is a broad range of published and unpublished documents, a series of oral history recordings with key individuals, and relevant literature. Findings are analysed against five “turning points” in the NFSA’s history:  Emergence within the structure of the National Library  Demerger from the Library in 1984 to become an autonomous institution  “Repositioning” and “rebranding” as ScreenSound Australia in 1999 This thesis is a historical study on the quest for identity, independence and good governance of the national memory institution known today as the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA),a statutory authority1 headquartered in Canberra, with branch offices in Melbourne and Sydney. While it touches on personalities and the development of collections, activities and technical capacities where necessary, this is not a comprehensive corporate history. It is rather a story of events, circumstances and ideas tracing the period from 1935 to 2008. The NFSA and its predecessors were known by a variety of names over this time, some expressive of its nature and aspirations, some of its subjugation to other ideas and agendas. It moved through several shared physical locations until gaining its own building, Canberra’s former Institute of Anatomy. It was originally part of the structure and culture of a national library, where it operated with growing unease until parting company with its parent in 1984. It then became an autonomous outrider temporarily attached to a Government Department for nineteen years, until its forced amalgamation with a film promotional authority for a further five. In 2008 it finally re-emerged, now as a statutory authority in its own right.
    Date of Award2011
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorStuart Ferguson (Supervisor) & Greg Battye (Supervisor)

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