Date of Award

May 2024

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece

Committee Members

Christine Evans, Tami Williams, Stephen Groening


Archival Images, Documentary, Film, Found Footage, Holocaust Studies, Visual Evidence


Film and documentary scholars have long debated links between images, history, and truth. The field recently began addressing epistemological questions emergent when visual sources are circulated as evidence in an age of rapid image appropriation, manipulation, and circulation. To contribute to debates about images’ digital-era evidentiary roles, I study twenty-first century archival documentaries. By archival documentary, I mean a film that primarily comprises extant images (from government archives, home movies, surveillance footage, Hollywood films, etc.), rather than footage shot for the documentary. Films scholars and critics have applied many labels to these kinds of films: compilation, found footage, remix, etc. I favor the term “archival documentary” because it emphasizes these films’ historiographic methods of engaging with archival images as evidence to support truth claims about the past. Twenty-first century archival documentaries make visible and analyzable urgent concerns surrounding the evidentiary roles of images, especially in the wake of discourses related to disinformation, digital surveillance, and the “post-truth.” I analyze archival documentaries to theorize targeted modes of looking in response to these concerns about images’ affordances and limitations as evidence. The first chapter proposes “post-truth looking” at photographs in response to Holocaust denialism. The second chapter advocates for “virtual looking,” which highlights tensions between private and public when home movies are repurposed in histories of the Holocaust. The third chapter proposes “policed looking,” which responds to the state’s use of body-worn camera footage to legitimate policing. The fourth chapter argues for “problematic looking” at controversial archival images to recognize their contingent use values in the twenty-first century. By exploring archival documentaries and their methods of engaging with visual sources, this dissertation project invites scholars to further historicize, critique, and reimagine how looking at images as evidence will shape future understandings of the past.