Object stories: Working with partners based on campus

Published on: 14 October 2015

Working in partnership doesn’t have to mean working with an external organisation Exeter academics also work with partners based on campus, such as the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum.

The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum is an accredited public museum and a research facility; it is the second largest collections of material relating to the moving image in Britain (after the BFI) with more than 75,000 items, of which more than 1,000 are on display in public galleries.

Working with the museum has huge benefits for some the University of Exeter’s academics. Dr Helen Hanson, Senior Lecturer in Film Studies and Academic Director of the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, said the museum has been hugely valuable in her research.

She explained: “It is a rich collection and the richness is in its diversity. During my research I will often have fragments of information and using the archives in the museum will often help me fill in the gaps.”

She added: “Having the museum on campus allows me to be more holistic in my approach, and has changed the direction of my research. The project I am doing at the moment began with the resources here, sources which acted as a catalyst for my research questions.”

Alongside Helen there are a number of researchers in Exeter’s Film Studies group who regularly use the collection for their research.

Helen said: “We are not working on one project together but we share interests in what this collection can tell us about the industrial and cultural importance of the moving image and cinema.”

Out of this shared use of the collection they created #ObjectStories – a collection of short films that tell a research story using objects from the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum collection. The films were made by a student intern, and BA English graduate, Mini Warren, who gained valuable skills in working with academics and with the museum.

The first film in the header features Dr Lisa Stead , Lecturer in Film Studies, and profiles her work on women’s writing about cinema going in the inter-war years. Her work uses fan magazines, postcards and popular fiction from the collection. Lisa’s forthcoming book on this topic will be published in 2016 by Edinburgh University Press and is entitled Film Fictions: Women's Writing, Selfhood and Intermediality in British Interwar Cinema.

In the next pair of films Dr Helen Hanson discusses her research on early sound craft and style in classical Hollywood Cinema. Her work uses fan magazines and technical publications held in the museum.
Dr Hanson has recently been awarded a British Academy/Leverhulme small grant for her research on film sound history and she is currently writing a monograph on this topic, entitled Hollywood Soundscapes: Film Sound Style, Craft and Production 1931-1948, which will be published through BFI/Palgrave MacMillan in 2016.


The final film shows Professor Joe Kember, Associate Professor in Film Studies, discussing the museum’s extensive magic lantern collection, particularly the slides and lectures produced by campaigning and religious groups such as the temperance movement.

Joe has recently won an award as part of a European consortium to the JPI Heritage scheme with a project called ‘A Million Pictures: Magic Lantern Slide Heritage as Artefacts in the Common European History of Learning’. He is also co-authoring a book on popular entertainment in the South West entitled Picture Going: Visual and Optical Shows 1820-1914.

The objective of Object Stories was to find new ways of communicating the research of the group that was distinct to the usual academic mode of writing articles and books. The group also wanted to find a medium that was more accessible to the general public and could help them communicate their work to a much wider audience. It builds upon the REF 2014 impact case study: Understanding the History of Popular Culture, based on research with the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum.

Having the museum and the objects available on campus has not only helped in the research but also in the communication of the outcomes of the work. But the collection isn’t just valuable to those studying Film, items can also give a valuable insight into History and other Humanities disciplines.

Dr Phil Wickham, curator of the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, said: “Items in the collection are often used indirectly as evidence of how people lived and thought. We have worked with a number of historians, and other Humanities academics on their research projects.”

He added: “There is no other museum like this in the country, it is a unique resource. It is used for teaching as well as research and can also be used by visiting academics.”

The centre has more than 5,000 images of its collection online that can be used by visiting academics to create their own online collections, which can be gathered together and the physical artefacts be ready for their inspection when they arrive.

For more information about the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum please visit www.bdcmuseum.org.uk.

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