When I was admitted into the Texts and Technology program in the Fall of 2014, like many of the colleagues in my cohort, I had a general idea of what my research interests were and a vague sense of how I could co-opt these interests into a significant dissertation project. The greatest challenge I would ultimately face in regards to finding my particular specialty would be narrowing down my numerous interests to form a topic that would contribute to an already-existing substantial body of work.
My area of interest centers around topics pertaining to film, specifically how the motion picture functions as an agent of cultural representation. During my first semester, I enrolled in Dr. Bruce Janz’s “Introduction to Texts and Technology.” Midway through the semester I met with Dr. Janz and expressed my interest in film history and pursuing a new topic I hoped would ultimately lead to developing the framework for my dissertation. He suggested I meet with Phil Peters of the Film Department with whom he had organized the conference Flickering Landscapes: Cinematic Representations of the West in Provo, Utah. My meeting with Professor Peters took an excitingly unexpected turn when he suggested that we develop a similar conference at UCF. Thus the idea for Flickering Landscapes: Florida’s Landscape, History, and Identity on the Screen was formed. As Dr. Janz later described, tongue in cheek, it was “a class project gone out of control.”
The end result was the creation of an interdisciplinary conference geared to address how Florida’s unique environment has fostered the development of a variety of genres and story types specific to the state. In examining the century-long back and forth between the state and motion picture production industry, several trends became quite apparent. The purpose of this conference was to examine three components frequently showcased as “Floridian” on film and television: landscape, history, and identity. In examining Florida’s landscape, it should be understood that there are many different “Floridas”, and one key aspect of this area is to understand the contrasts and contradictions of how space and place influence the state’s depiction in film. The choice to study Florida’s long production history provides many fascinating insights into the capricious nature of the motion picture industry. A major component of the conference focused on how different regions throughout the state attempted to function as a “Hollywood East” of sorts, and examine why in each instance Florida came up short. Lastly, questions pertaining to what can be defined as “Floridian” on film were examined. Aspects of Floridian identity can take many forms and most often are made through a variety of cliché characterizations. In understanding the differences between how Floridians view themselves and how non-Floridians depict the state on film, a broader understanding of the establishment of regional identities is realized.
As I began to work on Flickering Landscapes, I also enrolled in Lisa Danker’s “Film and Entrepreneurship” course where I mentioned my previous experience working for the UCF Home Movie Archive. As luck would have it, the film department was then in the process of at last digitizing the close to 10,000 hours of film footage the archive contained and turning the contents over to the UCF Library Special Collections. A fortuitous chain of events lead me to intersect with this transitional process and in turn lead me to work with Dr. Connie Lester, director of the UCF RICHES program. Last semester for my Internship in Texts and Technology, I was able to create an interactive film archive that specializes in showcasing footage from Florida’s historic roadside attractions, beaches, and popular amusements that were frequented by vacationers during the middle of the twentieth century. I furthered this research through Dr. Scot French’s Digital Tools for Historians and Dr. Rudy McDaniel’s Digital Design for Text and Technology courses. The end result was a digital exhibit titled, Roadside Memories: A Digital Tour of Florida’s Roadside Attractions, 1945-1975, which I will showcase at the Florida Conference of Historians this February.
This semester I will finish my last full semester of course work and begin to embark on the daunting task of preparing for my comprehensive exams and developing my dissertation committee. I can confidently say my accomplishments have significantly helped to ground me in an exciting and unique subject area. Working on Flickering Landscapes and overseeing the creation of Roadside Memories, I have been able to establish myself as an important fixture within the Central Florida film community. Moreover, such projects have helped to lay the foundation of my academic oeuvre as an expert in the yet to be formed subject field of Florida film studies. The opportunities that the Texts and Technology department has so far afforded to me will play an invaluable role in my future career development.