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Morse Communications Research Center Collection


Grant Proposal to the National Television & Video Preservation Foundation (2003)


Morse Political Broadcast Preservation Project: Project Description


Research or Historical Significance

Brandeis University requests funding from the National Television & Video Preservation Foundation (NTVPF) to preserve and provide access to a subset of films and videos from its Morse Communications Research Center collection. The collection, comprising early televised political broadcasts (1962-1964), is a rich resource for historians, political scientists, communications and media specialists, and early television enthusiasts interested in studying the history of televised political campaigns in the United States.

The films, currently housed in the Robert D. Farber University Archives at Brandeis University, were acquired in the early 1960s by staff of the Morse Communications Research Center, a research institute established at the university in 1961 for the study and analysis of communication in modern society. Headed by Louis G. Cowan, former President of CBS Television, and Henry Morgenthau III, former Executive Producer of WGBH-TV (Boston), the Center was created to analyze specific areas of communication affecting contemporary life, namely politics, education, and international relations. The Center's primary aim was to improve educational radio and television in the United States and abroad, particularly in developing countries.

Toward that end, the Morse Communications Research Center created an audio-visual archives documenting local, state, and national political campaigns across the United States, with the goal of making the materials available for research. Cowan acquired the broadcasts from advertising agencies and television networks around the country; by the time the Center closed in the mid-1960s, he had collected over 400 films and audiotapes documenting key political campaigns in the United States and Europe, from 1959-1964.

Obsolescence of Format

The moving image collection is composed of 16mm black and white films (one color) and 2-inch Quad videos, obsolete formats that the university no longer supports. The 16mm films have been tested for vinegar syndrome using A-D Strips. Although the readings indicate that some degradation has occurred (up to 1.5), the films and videos remain relatively stable and should be reformatted before they deteriorate further. By creating new analog, digital Master, and digital viewing copies (see laboratory estimate), Brandeis University will preserve these valuable materials while promoting their use at the same time.

Public Accessibility

Brandeis University does not own the intellectual copyright to the political broadcasts in its Morse Communications Research Center collection. Nevertheless, the university is committed to maximizing access to these rich materials. The reformatted broadcasts will be searchable through the university's online catalog and on the Archives' website, and shown in-house to researchers. Additionally, the University Archivist will contact all known copyright holders; she will clarify permissions to use and reproduce their materials, and will refer researchers to them, when necessary.

Uniqueness of the Institution's Material

From a collection of several hundred films and videos, 35 were selected based on their historical value, breadth, and lack of availability in other repositories (see Appendix A for inventory). Televised broadcasts of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy were not chosen, for example, because they are readily available at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston.

A survey of relevant film archives, archival repositories, and bibliographic databases indicates that the Morse collection comprises a unique and comprehensive grouping of early televised political broadcasts. The following repositories either do not hold, or provide free or public access to the broadcasts selected by Brandeis for preservation: ABC News Video Source; Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan; CBS News Archive; Dwight D. Eisenhower Library; Guggenheim Productions, Inc.; John F. Kennedy Library and Museum; Library of American Broadcasting; Library of Congress Motion Picture & Television Reading Room; Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Museum; Museum of Broadcast Communications; National Public Broadcasting Archives; NBC News Archives; Nixon Presidential Materials Staff; Rockefeller Archive Center, The Rockefeller University; and the Television News Archive, Vanderbilt University (see Appendix B).

The Julian P. Kanter Political Commercial Archive at the University of Oklahoma houses several broadcasts that Brandeis has selected for preservation, those of Barry Goldwater and Genevieve Blatt. However, since the Kanter Archive does not hold copyright to these broadcasts, they are made available to the public on a limited basis.

Storage

Brandeis University does not provide adequate climate control for the storage of film and video and will defray the costs of offsite cold storage if awarded the NTVPF grant. The University will fund offsite storage of the original materials, the analog copies, and the digital Master copies. The digital viewing copies will be housed on-site in a closed-access, temperature controlled environment.