Derek Long


Research Program: Media History, at Scale

I approach media history using a method that combines traditional archival document work with the analysis of large-scale digital datasets. The collective data the media industries have produced about themselves for over a century is now becoming widely available on various digital platforms, from the millions of pages of trade and fan magazines indexed by the Media History Digital Library and Arclight to the 35,000 titles' worth of filmographic information at Early Cinema History Online.

My work seeks to harness that scaled data in a scaled way - that is, both as evidence in historical arguments about the media industries and as a new way of thinking, analyzing, and writing about them as scaled enterprises.

Current Project: Feature film distribution in early Hollywood

Arclight Chart tracing relative mentions of various booking methods in the 1910s and 1920s

My current book project, Programs, Playdates, and Percentages: Film Distribution and the Making of the Hollywood Studio System, employs just such an approach to examine the shifting relationship between feature distribution, production planning, and exhibition in the American film industry from 1910 to 1930. An economic history of the industry’s film distribution practices, the book tells the larger story of how the major studios' struggle for control over distribution was central to the creation of the vertically-integrated studio system of Hollywood’s “Golden Age.”

In a twenty-year campaign, film distributors sought to package and price their product to theater-retailers with a degree of flexibility and control matched by few other businesses in early 20th century industrial capitalism. Through extensive archival research, the book goes beyond the (often-misunderstood) role of block booking to locate precursors to Hollywood’s distribution practice in the theatrical industries. It also examines the role of local distribution concerns in the industry’s drive for control, illustrates the importance of power struggles between distributors and exhibitors over booking, pricing, and playing time in the 1920s, and highlights the crucial changes in film distribution brought about by the transition to sound.

By examining film distribution as a contested set of practices informed by the conventions of early 20th century marketing and sales culture and other forms of theatrical spectacle, Programs, Playdates, and Percentages reframes our understanding of the historical developments that forged the Hollywood Studio System.

Media Distribution Practices, in Context

The book, and the approach I employ in it, is part of one strand of my larger research program in which I examine the historical context of media distribution across multiple platforms. I define distribution not merely as the physical circulation of media forms--a popular approach in contemporary distribution studies--but also in terms of the concrete historical practices that define that circulation—practices like booking, packaging, legal contracts, and piracy. My research therefore seeks to develop our understanding of the history of the media industries by contextualizing these practices as part of mutually-determined relationships between distribution, production, and consumption.

In an article I published in Film History, I offer a study of one such set of relationships in the case of the Majestic/Mutual studio plant at 4500 Sunset Boulevard in 1914 and 1915. Through a scaled data set of archival cost ledgers, I show that Majestic budgeted multiple-reel features according to a model very similar to its shorts, while marketing them as flexibly bookable outside of the shorts program. As a case study of a shorts producer attempting to compete on the nascent feature market, the article demonstrates the importance of thinking about distribution as a set of practices fundamentally intertwined with production and exhibition.

Videographic Criticism as an Approach to Film Historiography and Analysis

In 2017, I participated in the second weeklong Scholarship in Sound and Image Workshop on videographic criticism, organized by Jason Mittell and Chris Keathley at Middlebury College. It was an eye-opening experience, demonstrating how the analytical and expressive affordances of audiovisual media themselves enable new and powerful forms of research and scholarly publication.

Based on the exercises and initial work I did as part of that workshop, I published my first video essay, "Remixing Rose Hobart" through the peer-reviewed journal [in]Transition.

Remixing Rose Hobart from Derek Long on Vimeo.

The essay, which was selected for Sight and Sound’s list of the Best Video Essays of 2018, addresses the historiographical problems posed by the film’s digitization while simultaneously using editing software to analyze Cornell’s work at a new level of precision. This approach yielded an intriguing finding about the film’s invocation of colonialism, forcing us to consider its found footage from a transnational perspective rather than simply as a frame for the fetishization of Rose Hobart’s image.

The true revelation of this work, for me, is that videographic analysis enabled a new kind of finding, one that my previous written work on Cornell, which I published with the New Review of Film and Television Studies, could never have articulated.

In the broadest sense, the various aspects of my research program are linked by my interest in using digital tools to accomplish two goals: reframe and revise received histories of the media industries, and reveal the marginal, overlooked, and forgotten in media history. Neither of these goals would be possible without a grounding in the actual building, programming, and curation of digital tools. I discuss my digital practice in detail here.



Peer-reviewed Journal Articles

Book Chapters

Co-Authored Peer-reviewed Journal Articles

Book Reviews

Other Publications