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Special Issue on Speculative Approaches to Media Histories

Guest Editors: Allyson Nadia Field

 To an overwhelming extent, the field of cinema and media studies has been organized around extant material, with histories closely tethered to surviving evidence. While this is especially—and notoriously—true of early cinema, the tendency persists across the history of multiple media, including media made outside of mainstream spheres, the work of women and LGBTQ+ and nonwhite people, and media made in areas that have experienced or are experiencing conflict, or where media archiving is precarious at best. The result has been a conspicuous bias, one that has overlooked the overwhelming percentage of moving image media that does not survive, is fragmentary, is in danger of obsolescence, or whose survival is contingent on specialized preservation practices.

As cinema and media studies becomes more inclusive in its scope and purview, its methodologies likewise must adapt to account for these material absences. This special issue of Feminist Media Histories seeks to aggregate current work in cinema and media studies that is grappling with questions of the paucity of evidence, whether these absences are due to archival lacunae or other factors. In particular, this issue reflects on and explores modes of speculative methodologies—not just as a way to mobilize an absent archive but also to engage with speculation as a productive tool for media history.

Potential topics include but are not limited to:

  • Examples of speculative approaches to media history
  • Fiction and other creative approaches to dealing with archival absence
  • Methods such as informed speculation, critical fabulation, alternative evidence for approaching ephemera and otherwise inaccessible materials
  • Methods for accessing erased narratives of women and underrepresented workers in media industries
  • Methods for approaching questions of gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, etc. and for decolonizing and/or queering media archives 
  • The use of extrafilmic evidence and primary paracinematic evidence
  • Theories of evidence and archival theories and practices
  • Possibilities and limits of various historiographic methodologies (including oral history, biographic research, and official and unofficial discourses)
  • Media obsolescence and precinema media archaeology; vulnerable media
  • Specific case studies of lost or unmade films, elusive figures in media history, etc.
  • Discussions of films or media works that engage in speculative practices
  • Historiographical analyses of approaches to lost and fragmentary works
  • Contested histories and problems of the archive and limitations of archival thinking and practice
  • Speculation as a way of doing cinema and media history
  • As well as standard essays, we are also interested in oral history interviews, photo essays, and reprints of notable original documents.

Proposals should be roughly 300 words, should include a short bio, and should be submitted no later than February 1, 2021 to Allyson Nadia Field ( Contributors will be notified by February 15, 2021; article drafts will be due May 15, 2021 and then will be sent out for anonymous peer review.

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