This dissertation investigates changes in the disciplinary conception of American film animation history at the level of the archival collection. Although the establishment of film archives to preserve the past has been a perpetual concern in cinema studies, the role that archives play in shaping that past is less clear. Focussing on historical collections associated with The Walt Disney Company (1923-2018), this dissertation takes the form of a series of chronologically ordered comparative microhistories, each of which analyzes a select archival collection(s) in order to show how its formulation shapes the conditions of historical knowledge production. I argue that these collections participate in (re)inventing or reworking animation history to conform with the values and interests of various stakeholder groups. I contextualize these developments within the larger disciplinary history of cinema as a necessary first step towards rethinking what constitutes animation history.
As an often neglected subgenre of cinemastudies, animation functions as a unique microcosm that makes visible the alternate spaces wherein commercial industries, cultural institutions, special interest groups, and academic disciplines converge to define it as a field of study. Inspired by Foucault’s definition of the discipline as “a system of control in the production of discourse," and by Derrida’s observation that political power is rooted in control of the archive, this dissertation’s methodology pays particular attention to the institutions and power structures that intersect, enable, and restrict the animation historian’s productive activities. At stake in this project is the significant question about how intellectual paradigms embedded in archival collections continue to inform knowledge production today. By exploring the historical contexts that inform the development of select archival collections, I argue that we may glimpse the possibility for alternative histories and formulations of the discipline.