Using Newspapers and Films as Tools for Cultural History Research

Conference: The European Conference on Media, Communication & Film (EuroMedia2021)
Title: Using Newspapers and Films as Tools for Cultural History Research
Stream: Media History
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation
Mara Arts, Independent Scholar, United Kingdom


This paper demonstrates how media historians can gain valuable insight by using newspapers as well as fiction films as their primary source materials. In recent years, cultural historians have increasingly drawn on a wide range of primary texts to gain a rounded picture of popular history. Fiction films and newspapers, however, are not commonly considered beside one another, despite them representing two of the major mass communication outlets of the twentieth century. This paper exhibits the value of considering press and cinema sources next to one another, through a case study of the representation of London’s public transport network in popular newspapers and fiction films of interwar Britain. Through a close reading of relevant newspaper articles and films, it becomes evident that whilst both media paid heed to the sensational and potentially hazardous aspects of public transport, newspaper reports also sought to reassure readers which used transport every day. This indicates a more complicated relationship to the dangers of modernisation than an analysis of fiction films alone would suggest. Newspapers and films provide adjacent, complementary forms of representation. The press report on real-life events, but increased commercialisation of the press means that fictional storytelling devices are frequently used by reporters. Fiction films provide the inverse; its made-up stories need to be grounded in reality to permit audiences to connect with them. Considering both media alongside one another can create a new and richer understanding of social and cultural history.

Virtual Presentation

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