200th posting – Yesterday’s world

There is an opportunity to hear Marsha and Devin Orgeron (co-editors, ‘Learning with the Lights Off: Educational Film in the United States’) talk about educational films in the USA at UCL on 7th March. Details to follow. 
There is also work on UK educational films. In 2008 the Head of Collections at the Science Museum, London, Timothy Boon, wrote, ‘Films of Fact: A History of Science in Documentary Films and Television’, Wallflower Press, London, 2008. This acount of scientific documentary films does not focus on the OU as it covers the period between the 1890s and 1965 (BBC’s ‘Tomorrow’s World’). However, there are two chapters on science in television and it aims to provide an understanding of how the presentation of science can be created and sustained by the narrative form itself.  It suggests that modernist techniques in film were used to celebrate modernity and technology. Boon also considers the extent to which the form that documentaries took owes less to a notion of a straightforward genealogy or relationship to an ideal model and more to chance encounters and disparate political, commercial and aesthetic agendas. How far contingency played a part in the development of the OU’s broadcast material is of course a subject for further debate and thishistorical context may inform that debate.

Live broadcasts such as ‘Eye on Research’, which ran between 1957 and 1961 and filmed in research establishments, were popular programmes. However, disputes between scientists and broadcasters occured. ‘Priority must be given to the medium rather than scientific pedantry’, argued Aubrey Singer, head of the BBC’s science department in 1966 who added that ‘The aim of scientific programming… is not necessarily the propagation of science [but] an enrichment of the audience experience’. Echoes of such discussions occured in the BBC/OU debates about form and content. [The Singer quotes are taken from Colin Martin, ‘How science hit the small screen’, ‘Nature’, 453, 22 May 2008, pp. 454-455.]

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