With the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks just around the corner, the Internet Archive (IA) has launched “Understanding 9/11: A Television News Archive,” a website featuring a wide selection of archived television programming from that fateful day and its aftermath. The collection of DVD-quality video footage starts at 8 a.m. EDT on September 11, 2001—less than an hour before the first plane hit the World Trade Center in New York City—and ends at 9 p.m. on September 17. The resource features 3000 hours of footage from 20 channels around the world, including CNN; the BBC; affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox; and networks from China, Russia, and Mexico, among others.
The archive has a long history. IA’s ongoing television archive project first began in 2000. Shortly after the events of September 11, 2001, some of the footage was quickly archived, cataloged, and launched as a separate site in October 2001. Later, more material was made available on the main IA site. This latest website launch provides a new, more intuitive and visual interface, annotated with a timeline, and breaks up the footage into 35-second segments. (There’s also a helpful video summary that provides a brief overview.)
The value of this archive for researchers and historians is great, but even casual browsers will find it riveting. Horrific events are captured live, including the impact of the United Airlines Flight 175 into the South Tower. There’s also a wealth of strange and unsettling details in this sprawling collection—for example, live footage of cheering crowds outside the studio of NBC’s Today show, less than an hour before the attacks in lower Manhattan, and the jarring dissonance of Teletubbies being shown on a PBS affiliate as other networks broadcast images of burning towers.
The archive makes for uncomfortable viewing, to be sure—but the new site provides a vital service, and makes a crucial piece of recent American history even more accessible to the general public.
As part of the launch on August 24, IA and New York University’s Moving Image Archive Program at the Tisch School of the Arts cosponsored a short conference featuring scholars currently making use of archived TV news materials. Among the speakers scheduled were IA founder Brewster Kahle and LJ contributor Marshall Breeding, director for innovative technology and research at Vanderbilt University Library, Nashville, TN, and executive director of the Vanderbilt Television News Archive.