Project status: Completed

This project takes a traditional area of interest for the humanities - television history - and provides a distinctive spin by looking at alternative sources of information for writing that history. This research is part of a larger project looking at audience, industry and pro-am archives of television history.

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ARC Discovery Grant

Research leader
Organisational unit
Lead unit Faculty of Creative Industries
Start date
1 January 2008
End date
1 December 2012


The emergence of 'democratic digital archives' such as YouTube (Gracy, 2007: 194) has lead to discussions about their strengths and weaknesses in relation to traditional sources of information (see, eg, Rosenzeig, 2006, Gehl, 2009).

In order to evaluate the relative usefulness of YouTube and a traditional national archive for television historians wishing to access archival televisual material, I revisited a research project from 2001 in which I wrote a history of great television programs in Australia (McKee, 2001).

I attempted to source these programs both on YouTube and through the online catalogue of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA). The holdings of the NFSA were much more extensive. The NFSA held full episodes of program, at higher quality - YouTube had only clips, often of very low picture quality. However, following Fallis' (2008) suggestion that we must judge like with like, the accessibility of YouTube meant that for researchers who for whatever reason cannot travel physically to access the NFSA materials, or who need access to material quickly, YouTube is a better resource than the NFSA.

YouTube does contain some odd items that are not held by the NFSA. The metadata in YouTube is of a higher quality: it is easier to find material on YouTube than in the NFSA catalogue. YouTube also brings one into contact with a community of pro-am television scholars. Further, the comments facility on YouTube also allows the researcher to see how a contemporary audience interacts with the material. On the other hand, the impermanence of YouTube must be addressed - is it possible even talk about an "ephemeral archive"? Or is that simply an oxymoron?


Fallis, Don (2008) 'Toward an epistemology of Wikipedia', Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 59(10), pp 1662-1674.

Gehl, Robert (2009) 'YouTube as archive: Who will curate this digital Wunderkammer?', International Journal of Cultural Studies 12(1), pp43-60.

Gracy, Karen F (2007) 'Moving image preservation and cultural capital' Library Trends 56(1), 183-197

McKee, Alan (2001) Australian Television: a genealogy of great moments, South Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Rosenzweig, Roy (2006) 'Can history be open source? Wikipedia and the future of the past', The Journal of American History, 93(1), pp117-146.

Publications and output

  • Paper accepted for publication by Media International Australia:
    'Is Doctor Who Australian?'
  • Paper to be submitted to Television and New Media