Managing Mennonite Memory: Audiovisual Archives
by Dennis Stoesz
(Seventh in a Series)
The articles in this series have focused mostly on records
management. I now turn to a slightly different subject and see
if here too ideas such as historical value and administrative
value apply. I am talking about audiovisuals that make
up our lives. Everyone must remember the missionary slide sets
shown in churches on a Sunday evening. Or the film Berlin
Exodus that Peter Dyck showed in many churches across the
United States and Canada in the late 1940s. What makes these
old slides and films archival?
8mm CPS film and The Good War and Those Who Refused
to Fight It
It has been almost two years since Paradigm Productions in
California asked if we had any film footage of Civilian Public
Service (CPS) camps during World War II. They wanted to make
a one-hour documentary for PBS television on conscientious objectors
(COs). I knew of black and white CPS photographs, but I found
we did not have any films.
I called a few older persons involved in CPS to ask if they
knew of such films. Eventually the names of Elizabeth and Ralph
Hernley came up. They had been giving some of their older personal
papers and photographs to the archives, and I remembered they
had been involved in CPS. They had a number of old 8mm films
documenting their time of service in four CPS camps from 1941-46.
These had been transferred onto a VHS video in the 1990s. Paradigm
Productions was interested in previewing the images on a copy
of the VHS video. They then decided to transfer the original
8mm films onto a beta format in a lab in California (since the
beta was of higher quality than VHS). In the end, they used two
minutes and ten seconds of this footage for their one-hour film.
To quote one of the assistants who worked at the archives, Kent
Holsopple; Fifteen seconds of film footage is a life-time
when it comes to moving images.
So yes, old 8mm films as they sit in the canister can be very
valuable, depending what is on them.
Slide Sets: Allegheny Mennonite Conference WMSC, The First
Over a year ago, Mervin J. Hostetler from Virginia came to
the archives and asked about the slide set that he and his wife,
Fern, had produced for the fiftieth anniversary of the Womens
Missionary and Service Commission in the Allegheny Mennonite
Conference, 1927-77. He wanted to have these slides transferred
to a more modern format.
The Allegheny Conference collection contained two Kodak carousel
trays filled with slides of this anniversary celebration and
a reel-to-reel tape to be synchronized with the trays. The narration
was done by Fern Hostetler and Elta Graybill.
About six months later, Hostetler sent the archives a VHS
videocassette, as well as a DV cassette. A media lab had transferred
the 153 slides and the narration into digital images on a computer
about six to eight gigabytes of memory. This could then
be transferred onto a digital video cassette which can hold about
5,000 times more than a floppy disk. From this digital image
one can then make a VHS cassette. This permanent digital image
of the slides can then be used by a computer, instead of a slide
projector. However, this transfer into digital images can be
quite expensive, but this is the forefront of current technology.
(For example, Paradigm Productions could not afford digital technology
to make their movie, and had opted for the beta format.)
This project shows how one can bring old WMSC slides from
the past and convert them so they can continue to be viewed by
the next generation.
Slides: Fiftieth Anniversary of PAX, 1951-2001
I recently visited with Philip A. Roth from Pennsylvania.
He had served in the PAX program under Mennonite Central Committee
in Peru and Paraguay from 1954-56 and had some slides as well
as 8mm films of his time there. He wanted to know in what form
the archives wanted the slides the originals, video transfer,
or digital on a computer disk.
I told him it is important to keep the original slides and
8mm films and to deposit them in an archives. These originals
have been around for fifty years, and I expect can be preserved
for another fifty years. Despite the rapidly changing technology,
one can always go back to these originals and convert them into
the latest format. He could also have these slides and 8mm film
transferred onto VHS format, which is an easy-to-use medium.
One of the very important things, however, is to provide a
script for slides. A description of each slide is needed, giving
the meaning of the photograph, names of people, and the situation.
Explain the significance of the place or the specific work being
done. Not all of your slides may be useful. Pick out the important
ones and use them to tell a story. Number each slide. Include
a written explanation of each. Roth went through a tray of his
slides and in an hour told me the story of his time of PAX service
This then is how one can make slides into an archival collection.
The images themselves may be archival just as they are. However,
if you also provide a script, it can become a story of your faith
pilgrimage, and how this particular time may have changed your
life and the life of others.
Roth is in the process of having his materials transferred
onto video. He hopes to put the narration right on the video
as the images are being shown.
These are three examples of how audiovisuals can become historically
valuable and be placed into archival collections. Content, description,
and format are important factors.
Two audiovisual collections at the archives that are particularly
rich are found in the Mennonite Central Committee collection
and the Mennonite Board of Missions collection. Examples of personal
collections include the Peter Dyck 8mm and 16mm film collection
of Mennonite Central Committee in Europe, 1941-70, and the Paton
Yoder 8mm films from India, 1937-59, as taken by Jonathan and
Stoesz has served as archivist since 1989.
Mennonite Historical Bulletin, September 2001