Local Views, Developing a Larger History of American Cinema

Michael Aronson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies
University of Oregon

*Not for citation without written permission of the author.

Start with a question: How long is the coastline of Maine ? The answer is there is no answer – it depends. Are you measuring in miles, feet, or inches. The result will differ in each instance, and not just as a consequence of converting from one unit of measurement of another. For the further down you go in scale of measurement, the more irregularities of coastline you’ll pick up and so the length will expand or contract in relation to the manner in which you’re measuring it. And yet, as an object lodged in space, the coast of Maine is obviously a finite entry, which does not inflate or deflate according to how we look at it. It’s the modes with which we measure it that do. Although we most typically represent this measurement in miles, arguably, the specificity, complexity and beauty of this place where ocean meets land comes sharpest into detail when we choose to represent it more intimately. The production of History works much the same way. Where we look determines what we see.