The role that archival footage plays in documentaries

Written by Liang Xiong

The Palace Museum at Taipei is a presentation of the development of Chinese civilisation and the change in Chinese history and culture.

Totally around 0.65 million pieces of treasures, collected from the Chinese emperors of over the past several hundred years, are preserved in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. However, majorities of the treasures have originated from the Palace Museum in Beijing.


The Palace Museum at Taipei makes its utmost efforts to open the eyes of viewers to the historical events.

The documentary uses archival footages to explain why the historical relics preserved in the Palace Museum of Beijing transported to Taipei 70 years ago because then the Kuomintang government had to withdraw from Mainland China to Taiwan.

The archival footages give detailed presentations of the process. For instant,how they preserve in the National Palace Museum in Taipei? With unique historical value, these archival footages make the original presentation to spectators.


Also, The Palace Museum at Taipei integrates and edits archival footages at different periods. Moreover, it includes interviews with the staff working in the museum at a different time, so The Palace Museum at Taipei creates a coherent narrative structure and links relevant events at various periods.

Besides, the archival footage even serves as an independent story in the documentary. Taking the episode three as an example, it begins with presentations of a 40-year-old archival footage about archaeologists’recalling of their working experience in the museum. Then it presents images about activities of the new Taipei citizens visiting the museum. It shows that the National Palace Museum in Taipei has been a part of the life of people living in Taiwan.

“The archival institution was a way of turning important things such as notebooks into monumental public” (Parikka, 2012, p114).

However, a user should be quite careful when using the archival footage, for some of them are in a bad quality; making mistakes without precise identification should avoid. Besides, some of the archival footages come from the government and are likely to feature specific political stands; it is required to deconstruct.




[CCTV] 台北故宫-故宫国宝在台北. YouTube. Available from  [Accessed 26 February 2017].

Journeys in Time 2011-09-07 Palace Museum in Taipei. YouTube. Available from [Accessed 26 February 2017].

Parikka, J. (2012). What is media archaeology? Cambridge, UK: John Wiley & Sons.


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