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December 15, 2010

University, George Eastman House form alliance

woman inspecting filmstrip
Graduate student Sara Hutt is studying at the Jeffrey L. Selznick School of Film Preservation, one of the current collaborations between the University and the George Eastman House.

History of Collaboration

The University and George Eastman House share a common history through Kodak founder George Eastman—who shared half his philanthropic fortune with the University, including establishing the River Campus, the Eastman School, and the School of Medicine and Dentistry. Upon his death in 1932, he bequeathed his home to the University. Two presidents resided there, beginning with his close friend Rush Rhees, until 1947 when the University transferred the property to a board of trustees that established a museum of photography. Since then the University and Eastman House have had a history of sharing collections and academic collaboration, which continue to the present day.

The University and George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film have entered into an alliance to further public engagement, research, and education in the arts and sciences, with a focus on the museum’s photography and motion-picture collections. It will be the most extensive museum and university alliance of this type in existence.

“By sharing resources, expertise, and technology, these world-class institutions will create opportunities for groundbreaking research and exciting new public programs,” says University President Joel Seligman, a member of the Eastman House’s Board of Trustees.

The alliance is designed to produce research and education across disciplinary boundaries, spanning from art to medicine. Proposed activities will serve students at both institutions as well as the public at large. They include new courses exploring preservation as well as the art and science of photography and motion pictures; research programs for students and faculty; conferences and summer institutes; plus programs both in Rochester and online.

“This new alliance offers unique opportunities for collaborative work between the humanities and sciences, and it will mine the fabulous resources in the Eastman House collections.” —Peter Lennie

“A number of museums of the stature of George Eastman House have partnerships with universities, but research by the American Association of Museums turns up no programs of the breadth and depth of that being created in Rochester,” says Dewey Blanton, director of strategic communications for the American Association of Museums.

The alliance is centered on the study of the image in all of its domains. It will promote research and education in the arts and imaging sciences at both the university and the museum. Among the subjects studied will be the use of new technologies in motion pictures and of scientific methods for preserving and interpreting images. The Eastman House, the world’s oldest museum of photography, holds and preserves more than 4 million artifacts. The University has a long history of worldclass work in optics and visual science, and the interdisciplinary visual studies graduate program is the first of its kind in the country. 

“At George Eastman House, we are preserving our cultural and visual heritage, and now working in collaboration with the scientists and educators at the University of Rochester, we will do that more aggressively and in new and innovative ways,” says Anthony Bannon, the Ron and Donna Fielding Director of George Eastman House.

Current collaborations between the two institutions include 60 years of teaching partnerships; a master’s degree program in the Department of English with the Eastman House’s L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation; photography research focused on daguerreo-types that evaluates and preserves museum collections with techniques developed by the University’s Department of Computer Science; various fellowship and public programs; and the sharing of library collections, including rare books and online databases.

Bannon and Peter Lennie, senior vice president and Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering at the University, determined in 2006 that the two institutions could do more to make use of each other’s resources and the potential for collaborations. A committee composed of staff from the University and Eastman House recommended the current alliance.

“This new alliance offers unique opportunities for collaborative work between the humanities and sciences, and it will mine the fabulous resources in the Eastman House collections,” says Lennie. “This allows both institutions to draw from their strengths and augment them, making a mark on several research domains.”

The agreement also allows for joint fundraising and shared grants for research and programs at both institutions and is a part of both institutions’ strategic plans.

“In thinking about the future and the opportunities presented by this alliance, the trustees of George Eastman House and the University of Rochester have specified in their strategic plans that we explore possibilities for research, education, and community service through a center for the humanities and technology of the image.

The alliance team is committed to do so,” Bannon says. This center could ultimately lead to new master’s and PhD programs that would draw students and artists to Rochester, which is already known as the center of imaging in both the academic and industrial domains.

“This collaboration paves the way for exploration into new media, image preservation, film and media studies, science and technology, history and culture, the science of archiving, the study of digital technologies, and also the roles of librarians and archivists,” says Thomas DiPiero, senior associate dean of the humanities at the University.

three people at microscope From left, Hong Yang, an associate professor of chemical engineering; Taina Meller, conservator in charge at the Kay R. Whitmore Conservation Center, George Eastman House; and Nicholas Bigelow, the Lee A. DuBridge Professor of Physics and a professor of optics, discuss and analyze daguerreotypes at the George Eastman House.

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