Our New Cataloging System

New Cataloging System

As our collection grows, so does the importance of having effective tools for finding the right film for a class, screening, exhibition or research. To better help in those efforts, we are developing a new system for cataloging our films. We’ve talked with a number of archivists and advisors and are experimenting with a system that codes each film in terms of technique, subjects and topics. For instance, we’ve identified two groups of terms for describing the techniques used in a film, related to film elements and to narrative style. For film elements, we are describing films in terms of the different kinds of footage and explanatory strategies used, such as vérité, interviews, narration, re-enactments, text description, participatory, archival footage, animation and experimental; and for narrative style, we’ve been identifying films in terms of flashbacks, reflexive, autoethnographic and biographical. We’ll have a draft list of subject terms to share soon.

We’ve been fortunate to have Laura Alhach, an anthropology student at Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, with us this semester. Laura has been working with a sample of our films and coding them in each of these areas. We are excited to implement the new search capabilities as part of our website redevelopment plan, the DER Online Initiative.

Laura writes:

The knowledge of ethnographic media and film genre I have gained during the internship at DER — after watching more than 120 films and submerging myself in a new and wonderful world of documentary storytelling — has provided a substantial foundation to start creating a categorization system for DER’s collection. We’ve broken down 80 films in order to create a list of terminology using Bill Nichols’s Modes of Documentary, the American Folklore Society Ethnographic Thesaurus, and the Library of Congress Classification Outline, along with employing DER-specific headings and our own backgrounds in anthropology. The idea is to arrange a wide enough classification system for the films to fit general topics of interest, as well as detailed keyword tags to help make research as effective as possible. The work is still in progress: soon it will include search categories such as ethnic group and region! If you have any suggestions, please contact us with your feedback. We expect this to be an essential tool for everyone interested in exploring the expanding collection, so any contribution is welcome!

Here are some examples of the films we’ve analyzed:

Film Subjects Topics Technique
Gods and Kings Religion and Thought Religious Festivals, Rituals and Ceremonies, Folklore, Myths and Legends, Dance Rituals Vérité, Archival footage, Text description, Narration
A Kalahari Family Economics, Social Life Development, Rural Development, Kinship, Social Change, Identity, Cultural Representation, Vérité, Reflexive, Archival footage, Text description, Narration, Interviews
A Life Without Words Social Life, Language and Communication Sign Language Vérité, Text description
Mallamall Business and Economics, Social Life Development, Rural Development, Material Culture and Consumption, Social Life Interviews, Vérité, Text description
A Weave of Time Art and Craft, Business and Economics, Social Life, Methods and Practices Textile Art, Development, Rural Development, Trade and Commerce, Social Change, Identity, Fieldwork Vérité, Interviews, Narration, Archival footage, Text descriptions, Biographical


Marshall Exhibit at !Khwa tuu San Cultural Center

Exhibition in South Africa featuring the Marshall films: Bringing Back the Archive

We are delighted to announce an exhibition featuring John Marshall’s films and Marshall expedition photos now open at the !Khwa ttu San Heritage Center outside Cape Town, South Africa. The exhibit opened in September 2023, following a multi-year collaboration between !Khwa ttu, Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and DER.

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N/um Tchai (1969)

DER Receives 2023 Preservation Grant from NFPF

DER is excited to announce that we are recipients of a 2023 preservation grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation to restore two of John Marshall’s films – BITTER MELONS (1971) and N/UM TCHAI (1969).

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