Edge Hill University
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THE ANIMATED ARCHIVE: A Story of the Great War

Version 2 2024-04-24, 10:23
Version 1 2023-05-10, 09:28
posted on 2024-04-24, 10:23 authored by Helen NewallHelen Newall

In 2019, a journal and photographs were deposited in the Edge Hill University archive. The journal vividly details its author’s experiences in WW1, and Professor Newall responded to it, making a film narrative through which to animate the photographs.

Selections from the journal were made by Newall to form a consecutive but impressionistic narrative. These were then performed by Dr James Macpherson, and sound recorded by independent scholar and sound artist, Dr Karen Lauke. These recordings were then scored into soundscapes of ambient or literal environmental noise – horses, birdsong, laughter, distant guns – and underscored with more abstract or acousmatic sound for emotional content. The resulting soundscapes were then visually treated with short animated collages constructed from the collection of photographs and overlaid with captions from original fragments of journal text.

The result is A Story of the Great War, a series of brief films which bring new life to the subjects depicted in the archival objects. Combined, these films form a thirty-minute impressionistic experience of the journal and photographs, which Newall describes as a form of visual radio play.

The project explored creative interactions with archives: the work disrupts representation, creating an ontological change as it shifts the material from, in the words of Simone Osthoff, ‘a repository of documents to the archive as a dynamic and generative production tool’ (2009: 11). Osthoff postulates that this positions ‘history and theory neither completely outside the realm of art nor entirely inside of it, but in continuous relays’. For while curation is a systematic and methodical process of looking, assessing, cataloging, organising material, the responses made here have been emotional and less than systematic: this has been an ekphrasis, a search for different insights via a dramatization of archival potential to reveal alternative information – what Marina Abramovich calls ‘liquid knowings’ (Nelson, 2013) – about the journal and photographs and the man, William Bradshaw, who authored them.

Practice research questions included:

· How might subjects be found and reanimated from archival objects?

· How might archives be made accessible?

· What might creative responses make of archival documents?

· And what liquid insights might such practice research bring to the archive?

The documents here include:

  • The eight short films.
  • Combined into one film.
  • Visual Essay: a ten-minute film documentary + excerpt, which was presented at the Royal Historical Society Conference: History and Archives in Practice: Radical Archives (HAP23), London, March 2023. An online panel subsequently convened to take questions on 27 April 2023.
  • Photograph Preparation - Photoshop - screen grabs of digital restoration and preparation for animation.
  • After Effects Animation - screen grabs of digital collage animation process.
  • Film stills.


Institute for Creative Enterprise, Edge Hill University


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