Journal Article

Challenges to comparative oral histories of cinema audiences


This article reflects on the challenges of comparative oral history analysis by taking the BA/Leverhulme-funded project Mapping European Cinema: a comparative project on cinema-going experiences in the 1950s (2016-2017) as a case study. The aim of MEC was to test new methodologies in order to explore and compare programming patterns and cinema-going experiences in European cities that were similar in terms of population and film exhibition structure but substantially different in terms of film culture. MEC focused on three case studies: Bari (Italy), Leicester (United Kingdom) and Ghent (Belgium). This article uses three video interviews to reflect on the theoretical framework around comparative analysis and to discuss issues of cultural specificity. Attempts at substantial comparative analysis have proved to be a challenging task because of the difficulty of analysing different film cultures cross-nationally, the complexity of standardising data, and the lack of analytical frames that could be used to explain patterns and differences revealed during the analysis. Building on the work of cultural historians studying the reciprocal traffic of culture across borders, the article adopts a theoretical framework that addresses the complexity of working with memory across national borders and linguistic barriers and emphasizes contextualization as a defining component in cross-national comparative studies. The article argues that the national specific knowledge of individual researchers enabled the authors not to overlook local perspectives while at the same time generalising across the three national cultural contexts, identifying new perspectives, and finding a common ground that could be commensurable to ensure a systematic comparative process.

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Ercole, Pierluigi
Van de Vijver, Lies
Treveri Gennari, Daniela

Oxford Brookes departments

School of Arts


Year of publication: 2020
Date of RADAR deposit: 2020-09-23

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