Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Watch us on Youtube Join the Archive Mailing List Read our Blog

Archival Theory and Practice

About the Author

Stacks of archived footage
Former Director, UCLA Film & Television Archive

In addition to his long career in film archiving and curating, Jan-Christopher Horak has taught at universities around the world. His recent book, Saul Bass: Anatomy of Film Design (2014) was published by University Press of Kentucky.

"Archival Spaces" Blog - Ithaca College

Success came rather early to me. In 1984, at the age of 33, I was hired as Associate Curator of the Film Department at George Eastman House, then the fourth largest nitrate-holding film archive in the United States. Less than three years later, I become Senior Curator and head of the department. Returning to Eastman House had been my goal and my dream, ever since completing a post-graduate internship there in 1975-'76. Now, not quite thirty years later, I’m still working in the field of film archiving, preservation, and programming, and I am still as passionate about our work, as I was back then.

Over the course of my career, there is not a single job in the Archive that I have not personally done, whether inspecting nitrate film in the vaults, cataloging, preservation work, programming, assessing collections, fundraising, even shipping. As Director of UCLA Film & Television Archive, I am of course involved in all aspects of the Archive’s work, taking a hands-on approach, rather than just administering employees. With this blog, I would like to begin documenting not only my own passions for the field, for film history, and for film pedagogy, but also provide an insider’s look at how this moving image archive functions.

Those who know me, also know that unlike some of my more practically minded colleagues, I have always tried to theorize my own work in the Archive, publishing occasional pieces on the state of moving image archiving and preservation. For example, in the mid 1990s, I published an essay on my very complicated restoration of G.W. Pabst’s The Joyless Street (1925). A few years later, I wrote about setting up an archive for material culture at Universal. My essay on film identification won the Katherine Kovacs Essay Award of the Society of Cinema and Media Studies in 2007.

The new digital paradigm has also preoccupied me. I have felt the need to write about my practical work for several reasons:

  1. As a trained academic who is also a practicing archivist, I have also considered it important to communicate my experiences to others.
  2. The field of moving image archiving is such a new field—barely fifty years old—that its literature, protocols, theory and practice are still being formulated. With the sea change presently going on in the digital realm, our field is changing even faster.
  3. I have been teaching in the Moving Image Archive Studies (MIAS) program at UCLA for the past ten years, the first academic training program of its kind in this country, so I’ve had to formulate my ideas for our MIAS students. 
  4. A year ago, I also began writing a blog, “Archival Spaces,” which I’m now officially moving to our newly designed website. Anyone interested in previous posts can find them at

As someone working in a “dream job,” I often get queried, “What do you actually do in a moving image archive?" What we don’t do is watch movies all day. This blog will try to answer that question, thereby hopefully making the work of the Archive more transparent.