Challenges to Comparative Oral Histories of Cinema Audiences




Journal Title

Journal ISSN



Volume Title


Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision



Peer reviewed



This article reflects on the challenges of comparative oral history analysis by taking the BA/Leverhulme-funded project Mapping European Cinema: a comparative project on cinema-going experiences in the 1950s (2016-2017) as a case study. The aim of MEC was to test new methodologies in order to explore and compare programming patterns and cinema-going experiences in European cities that were similar in terms of population and film exhibition structure but substantially different in terms of film culture. MEC focused on three case studies: Bari (Italy), Leicester (United Kingdom) and Ghent (Belgium). This article uses three video interviews to reflect on the theoretical framework around comparative analysis of film cultures, discuss issues of cultural specificity, and provide examples. Attempts at substantial comparative analysis of data have so far been unsuccessful because of the difficulty of analyzing different film cultures cross-nationally, the complexity of standardizing data, and the lack of analytical frames that could be used to explain patterns and differences revealed during the analysis. Building on the work of cultural historians studying the reciprocal traffic of culture across borders, the theoretical framework of the article tackles this complexity of working with memory across national and linguistic barriers and emphasizes contextualization as a defining component in cross-national comparative studies. Reflecting back on the initial choices made during the development of our MEC project, the article focusses on the selection of the cities and the methodological decisions developing the questions for the interviews, with examples concerning the importance of the geographical common tread and the impact of film memories. The article argues that the national specific knowledge of individual researchers enabled the authors not to overlook local perspectives while at the same time generalizing across the three national cultural contexts, identifying new perspectives, and finding a common ground that could be comparable to ensure a systematic comparative process.


open access article


Cinema History, Cinema Audiences


Ercole, P., Treveri-Gennari, D. and Van de Vijver, L. (2020) Challenges to Comparative Oral Histories of Cinema Audiences. Journal for Media History, 23(1-2), pp.1-19.


Research Institute

Cinema and Television History Institute (CATHI)