UO Libraries Awarded 2016 Preservation Grant from National Film Preservation Foundation

Federal funding to support preservation of Luther Cressman Field Work Films (1938–54)

With help from a nonprofit organization created by the U.S. Congress to help save America's film heritage, the University of Oregon Libraries and the Museum of Natural and Cultural History (MNCH) soon will begin a project to preserve several unique, historically significant films and make them available for study and research.

On May 18, 2016, the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) announced the most recent group of films slated for preservation through its annual grant program. Among the 64 works selected are the Luther Cressman Field Work Films which document the influential UO anthropologist’s 1938-1954 discovery and excavation of important Paleo-Indian sites in eastern Oregon. The films are part of Cressman’s personal papers, which are housed in the Special Collections and University Archives of UO Libraries, and his field notes, held by the MNCH. The UO’s reels are all originals; no other copies are known to exist in private or public collections.

“I’m thrilled to have these important films preserved,” said project coordinator Elizabeth Peterson, humanities librarian and curator of moving images with UO Libraries. “And I’m pleased to be able to collaborate with the Museum of Natural and Cultural History to save these resources.”

Luther Cressman (1897-1994) was a pioneering archaeologist whose work profoundly changed prevailing theories of ancient human civilization in North America. He helped to establish both the Department of Anthropology and the MNCH at the UO.

The Field Work Films document Cressman’s work throughout Oregon: the first excavations at key sites on the Columbia River, the Northern Great Basin, the Oregon Coast, and the Klamath River. In the 1930s, at Fort Rock Cave and Paisley Caves, Cressman and his collaborators unearthed evidence that would significantly recalibrate the timescale for human habitation in our region. Recently, MNCH archaeologists have demonstrated that Paisley Caves was one of the oldest inhabited sites in all of North America.

“The fieldwork footage may reveal aspects of Cressman’s research that aren’t fully explained in his fieldnotes or reports, providing important context for archaeologists who continue to work on these sites,” said MNCH anthropological collections director Pamela Endzweig.

The 16mm original films are on acetate stock, condition fair to poor. Laboratory work to preserve the films will include basic cleaning and restoration (including replasticizing when necessary), creation of new internegatives, and printing two new public access copies of each film. Estimated costs to be covered by the grant are $17,146. The new prints will be available for on-site research and public screenings. We also plan to upload new digital files to the library’s streaming video server. DVD copies will be made available to the Oregon tribal communities whose people and lifeways are documented in the films.

“Improving access and preservation are two of the UO Libraries’ most important goals when it comes to stewardship of special collections,” said Dean of Libraries and Philip H. Knight Chair Adriene Lim. “Because of this, the opportunity to work on such unique and important films and ensure their continued availability for researchers is especially exciting.”

The NFPF is a grant-giving public charity, affiliated with the Library of Congress's National Film Preservation Board. Since its creation by Congress in 1996, the NFPF has provided preservation support to 284 institutions and saved more than 2,287 films through grants and collaborative projects.

Among the other recipients of a 2016 grant is UO Libraries' partner the James Blue Alliance—their funds will go to preserving Blue’s award-winning feature film The Olive Trees of Justice (1962). James Blue ’53 was a UO alumnus whose papers are held in the library’s Special Collections and University Archives: one of the two restored Olive Trees prints will be permanently deposited here.