What is Media Archaeology?

Written by: Nuraine Ebrahim

Media Archaeology is a term that is difficult to define and comprehend. It cannot be explained simply, but it can be described as a series of ideas. It provides an analysis of the past through the use of old media mixed with new media. It does not follow a mass ideology or one order of history. It unfolds a fragment of former events that have not been discussed. Media archaeology supplies us with layers of display (which includes VFX  and stock footage) to enhance the narrative. The documentary, History of the Eagles (2013) will assist us in trying to understand a piece of what media archaeology is.

The film uses archival footage of the Eagles, performing on stage, giving interviews from when they first started out to their break up and post-separation. The use of the archival footage was not edited linearly, but fragments of the past (that was filmed) was utilised.

Part of the agenda that Elsaesser has suggested is that “film history is best described as a series of discontinuous snapshots … the task is to map this field as a network rather than as discrete units” (Elsaesser, 2016, 27).

There’s also past clips of The Beatles, Elvis, and the records they listened to. The use of the archival footage was paralleled with the present day interviews of the band. Thomas Gunning explains that early films were based on entertainment, to show something fascinating, it was not entirely focused on narrative  (Gunning, 2000, p.30).

This documentary, like many others, makes use of this concept. It was used as a spectacle tool, a show and tell method. The mixture of the old and new footage helps to fill the gaps and capture the spectator’s attention. Without the layers of display or media archaeology, the audience wouldn’t be able to only listen to the bland monologues.


Elsaesser, T. (2016). Early Film History and MultiMedia: An Archaeology of Possible Futures. In: Chun, W. and Keenan, T. New Media, Old Media: A History and Theory Reader. New York: Routledge. p.27.

Gunning, T. (2000). The Cinema of Attraction: Early Film, Its Spectator and the Avant-Garde. In: Miller, T. and Stam, R. Film and Theory: An Anthology. London: Blackwell Publishing. p.30.


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