This thesis emphasizes the need to conserve nitrate silent films and to raise awareness that digital copies are not the only solution. Digital copies cannot fulfill all conservation and preservation needs. After reviewing the work of a film historian, archival experts, and several academics in the field of film and archives, I chose silent nitrate films dating from the early 20th-century as case studies. The selected films, part of the John E. Allen Collection of the George Eastman Museum (GEM) in Rochester, NY are housed in the nitrate vaults at the Louis B. Mayer Conservation Center in Chili, NY, although they were originally stored offsite before being brought to the nitrate vaults in the late 1990s. The films are considered orphan films, films without owners, they were abandoned and placed in poor conditions. The films have varying levels of decomposition. The methodology consists of inspecting the titles reel by reel and comparing the decomposition levels from previous inspection in 2000 to the present, 2018. The research and findings produced in this thesis show to what extent the storage conditions in the nitrate vaults have slowed decomposition and what conservation issues remain. In addition to researching the relevance of the particular films examined and the broader field of nitrate film studies, this thesis expresses the need for increased public awareness for conserving nitrate, in an effort to preserve nitrate silent films before they disappear.

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Museum Studies (BS)


Rebecca DeRoo

Advisor/Committee Member

Deb Stoiber

Advisor/Committee Member

Juilee Decker


RIT – Main Campus