The "Societas Medica Scandinavica" film archive: the use of old films as a possibility for research and teaching

Kenneth ÖGREN
Department of Clinical Science, Division of Psychiatry; and Department of Culture and Media, Umeå University, Sweden
kenneth.ogren AT

Modern media technology renders the possibility of transferring conveniently old film rolls to a DVD-disc. Thus, old films on science can be saved and reused for scholar purposes and make possible the important reflections of the history of medicine and medical technology. Films produced during the 20th century, properly and safely kept may be a gold mine for different disciplines, opening up for new ways of analyzing history of medicine, from a century that has seen tremendous development. Such an opportunity is now opened through the old 16mm films that were collected for the ”Societas Medica Scandinavica” film archive. Consisting of approx. 1000 films on various scientific and medical subjects - some of these on neurology, neurosurgery and neurological and neuropsychiatric diseases – may be important value for researchers.

How these films were uncovered is a strange history with a happy ending. Starting with an indication of the existence of the film archive in a medical journal, a process of detective work was initiated, leading me finally, to a basement room in a university location outside Gothenburg, where loads of films from the archive were kept - very insecure and under suboptimal archival conditions. What I saw made me sad.

Due to the desolated interest of the 16 mm films, they were left on a dangerous Via Dolorosa. To my surprise loads of cardboards, rather insensitively, had been put into the basement room. From the point of view of the rigors archival requirements for the protection of old 16 mm films, many from the 1940s and even the 1930s were in danger. Immediately I wrote an article, which was published in the cultural section of the dominating Gothenburg newspaper. Then I had laid the ground for a communication with the Gothenburg University, which obviously were ashamed of there handling. They even appointed an archivist especially to investigate the matter.

Now the films are deposited to the documentary unit of the Swedish Film Institute and films are in the process of cataloging and renovation. I had managed to get the films saved for research. I will be able to show some parts of films that might be of interest to the ISHN. I have shown some films to psychiatric colleges and psychiatric students have had an opportunity to analyze and discuss matters which otherwise would have been totally unavailable for them.


Session IV.  Neurocinematography
Wednesday, 20 June 2007, 5:00 - 5:30 pm

12th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences   (ISHN)
Los Angeles, California, USA, 19-23 June 2007