A large number of the Video Active consortium attended the Television Without Borders international conference held at the University of Reading in the UK (27-29 June 2008) to present papers on television history, archival practices and on the Video Active project itself. 

The conference focused on the way in which television crosses borders, in the past, present and future, and examined the role of the medium in promoting or challenging forms of national and cultural identity. The three-day event was attended by over 100 international delegates from Europe, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and China, and discussion explored the way that television  programmes, genres, personnel, technologies, policies and economics  have all been implicated at an international level in forms cultural exchange, appropriation and resistance.

For example, Jeffrey Miller (Augustana College, USA) discussed how US and UK spy dramas have reflected political and cultural relations between the two countries since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, while Juan Francisco Gutiérrez Lozano (University of Malaga) explored how Spanish television has adapted international music talent show formats for regional audiences.  On the other hand, however, Yanhong Yang and Yuhong Sun (Communication University of China) explored the way that Chinese television has valorised specific aspects of a desirable national character.

The conference also explored the importance of understanding international television historically, and members of the Video Active consortium gave a number of papers and presentations in this area. Sonja de Leeuw (Utrecht University) discussed the role of Dutch international formats in recent television history; Dana Mustata (Utrecht University) explored the role of foreign programming and transmissions into Romania before and after its revolution; and Andreas Fickers (Maastricht University) discussed the international politics of television line standards in post-war Europe. 

Video Active archive partners also discussed the importance of archive practices for transnational television history. Dalida van Dessel presented on the work of Sound and Vision in the Netherlands and offered models of best practice for the preservation of audio-visual content in the public archive sector and for the use of digital technologies for access and education, and Andy O’Dwyer (BBC) discussed the practical issues that broadcasters face in the preservation of content and for creating access to television programming. 

Dalida van Dessel also spoke about Sound and Vision’s involvement with Video Active, and Cathy Johnson and Rob Turnock (both of Royal Holloway, University of London) presented a paper which explored the historiographical issues that the project raises in creating access to content and metadata and the practical solutions that have been developed. 

Overall, the Television Without Borders conference has demonstrated and consolidated two significant developments within the academic study of television and the media. Firstly, it provided further evidence of the maturation of the so-called ‘historical turn’ in television studies, with many papers taking a historical interest in television as a cultural and technological form and in using historical methodologies for understanding television today.

Secondly, it has very much contributed to the recent interest in comparative and international approaches to the study of television. Previously understood in terms of national broadcasting cultures, new scholarship is increasingly seeking to understand television from an international perspective and to consider the complex ways in which television interacts with social and cultural activity across regional, national and international communities.

The strong presence of members of the Video Active consortium at the conference demonstrated that the project is closely interrelated with these developments. Not only did it illustrate the value of co-operation between academics, archives and broadcasters, but it showed that Video Active, by creating access and promoting critical engagement with television programmes from archives across Europe, has the potential to play an important interventionist role in the future development of international television history.

Report by: Rob Turnock, Royal Holloway, University of London