Cinema Memory and the Digital Archive: 1930s Britain and Beyond

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Lancaster Inst for the Contemporary Arts

Abstract

CINEMA MEMORY AND THE DIGITAL ARCHIVE is about expanding our knowledge and understanding of how audiences relate to and remember the experience of cinemagoing. How is 'going to the pictures' remembered? How may these remembered experiences be expressed? In speech? In writing? Through a range of creative practices? What can such expressions tell us about how our memories of films figure in our daily lives? Engaging in 21st-century developments in digital communication and research, this project will expand academic and public knowledge of these elements of the cinema experience.

The project will produce a freely available website composed of a range of historical materials related to cinemagoing in Britain. What specific materials will be available on the website? The project's starting point is the materials gathered in the course of 'Cinema Culture in 1930s Britain' (CCINTB), a large-scale inquiry, conducted in the 1990s, into cinema audiences and filmgoing in the 1930s. Deposited in Special Collections at Lancaster University Library, the CCINTB collection includes:
a) Over 250 hours of in-depth interviews with 1930s cinemagoers living in four areas of mainland Britain
b) Some 200 questionnaires completed by 1930s cinemagoers from across the UK
c) Over 200 letters, essays and written memoirs received from interviewees and questionnaire respondents
d) Over 150 items of cinemagoing memorabilia and artefacts from the 1930s (diaries, postcard collections, scrapbooks, cinema programmes, posters, magazines), mostly donated by informants.
This valuable resource is currently hidden from public view. The production of a dedicated website and the digitisation of the entire collection will mean that all of the CCINTB materials will be made available in digital form to members of the general public as well as academic researchers.

In the period since the CCINTB collection was assembled, research on historical film reception has expanded considerably, and is now an important subfield within film studies. It is also a topic that attracts considerable public interest. The time is ripe to bring this material on 1930s cinemagoing and cinema memory into conversation with more recent inquiries, by drawing on and developing digital tools now available to scholars in the humanities and social sciences.

Alongside the physical management and digital updating, archiving and cataloguing of the collection, programmes of new research and public-facing activities will be conducted. These will include a new theatre production inspired by the CCINTB collection and a range of film screening events featuring readings and recordings of extracts from informants' interviews.

The project's research phase will aim to introduce substantial new findings on the cinema experience and cinema memory, while also sharing these insights with the research community via international workshops, conferences, and publications. Public engagement events are scheduled throughout the duration of the project so that many of the project's findings can be shared with the general public. A programme of archive-based activities, including residencies for creative artists, will be launched early on in the project, with a view not only to publicising it but also with an eye to the possibility that visitors' work may feed, in perhaps unanticipated ways, into the project's research design and/or the construction of its web interface.

Planned Impact

Through knowledge-exchange activities and partnerships, this project will benefit:
1. Digital audiences and engagement: Making the CCINTB collection available through the project website ensures a coherent dataset will be made available to a wider range of potential users, including academics, but also local historians, film fans and the general public. The online presentation of the collection will also facilitate its connection with and benefit to such initiatives as the British Library's 'Save Our Sounds' project, and its equivalent in Scotland, 'Scotland's Sounds'. The project website's inclusion of a suite of digital resources such as audio guides, interactive geographic maps, collection tours (presented by writers, artists and academics undertaking residencies at the archive in Lancaster), will encourage the collection's use in wide variety of contexts and by numerous and diverse beneficiaries.
2. Independent and commercial cinemas, theatres and their audiences: Project screening events held at the Glasgow Film Theatre, Cinema City in Norwich, the Phoenix in London and Vue cinemas in Manchester and Bolton, as well as performances of Imitating the Dog's new theatre production inspired by the CCINTB collection at Lancaster, will provide unique opportunities for audiences to connect with their own local cinema histories.
3. Museums and archives: In addition to improving access and raising the profile of the CCINTB collection, other organisations such as Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life (Coatbridge, near Glasgow), the Cinema Museum (London), the Bill Douglas Museum (Exeter), the Mass-Observation Archive (Bolton branch) and the Scottish Screen Archive (Glasgow) will benefit from the project's research into their collections. The project's intentions to match interview extracts with a range of cinema memorabilia and objects held in these collections, and to create audio files for public exhibitions (both online and offline), will benefit future users of the collections, creating greater access and awareness of the collections. In addition to related exhibitions on the CMDA website, Summerlee Museum will also make use of material on its own website and as part of a touring cinema exhibition (developed in collaboration with the project).
4. Local communities and history groups: Project events will connect with, and be of benefit to, local history groups. The screening events, writing workshops, and cinema audio walking tour apps (for Manchester and Glasgow) will establish valuable new historical resources which can be productively connected to the work of local history groups, such as the Halliwell Local Historical Society in Bolton, Burnage Memory Bank Project in Manchester, the Headstone Manor Museum and the Stanmore and Harrow Historical Society in Harrow (site of the London fieldwork), as well as established cinema history projects such as Norfolk at the Pictures http://norfolkatthepictures.org.uk, and the Scottish Cinemas and Theatres Project http://www.scottishcinemas.org.uk/glasgow/
5. Education and outreach: Writing workshops held to coincide with each of the screening events will be of benefit to local writers and writing groups. The workshops' focus on the historical interviews with respondents from their local area will provide an example of how local cultural heritage can function as a catalyst for imaginative expression. A special issue of LUNE (a creative writing journal based at Lancaster University) focusing on memories of cinema-going, will provide workshop participants with an opportunity to submit work produced during the workshops, and will help to foster wider interest in the project. A 'Cinema Memories Loans Box' containing cinema objects from Summerlee Museum's collection will be created for use in the workshops, and serve as a lasting resource which can be loaned to local community groups who wish to hold their own workshops.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Mining Memories Conference, University College, Cork, Ireland 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Both Annette Kuhn and Jamie Terrill attended the Mining Memories conference at University College Cork, Ireland on 22nd November 2019. Annette delivered a keynote, touching upon memory methodology and the role of memories within the CMDA project. Jamie's paper similarly explored cinema memory, particularly how it can be assessed and re-appraised as part of the project. The international delegation was a mixture of postgraduate students, academics and film practitioners.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description AHTV, Barbican Centre, London 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Jamie Terrill, Research Associate, was awarded a small AHRC bursary to attend AHTV, hosted by the TV Foundation and the AHRC, which took place on February 5th, 2020 at the Barbican Centre, London. Here, Jamie was in the audience for a number of panels that touched upon how scholars and the TV industry can work together to create specialist factual television. Jamie also had a 'speed meeting' with Olivia Grigoriou, a Development Executive for the production company Fremantle, where the nature of 'selling' a television concept was discussed in more detail.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Bill Douglas Museum, Exeter 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Over the 29th and 30th of November, four members of the CMDA team (Richard Rushton, Annette Kuhn, Sarah Neely, and Jamie Terrill) attended the University of Exeter for a research trip. On the first evening, the CMDA team hosted a seminar for staff and postgraduate students, with each member of the team presenting a key element of the project. Richard presented an overview of CMDA, with particular focus on the design of the project and the proposed outcomes. Annette discussed the history of CMDA and the twenty-five years of projects, publications and other outputs that contributed to the Cinema Culture in 1930s Britain archive. Sarah explored the range of creative outputs that will be drawn from CMDA and their value as a means of engaging with the public. Finally, Jamie presented the practical challenges of digitising the archive and also discussed his plans for applying recent developments in cinema historiography to the archive's collections. The following day, the team visited the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, where curator Phil Wickham hosted a tour of the public facing exhibitions. Following the tour, the team attended a meeting with Phil and Helen Hanson, Academic Director of the museum, to discuss their archival practises and website design.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Meeting with the Project's UK Steering Group 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact On January 22nd, 2020, CMDA hosted members of its UK Steering Committee at Lancaster University. This was an opportunity for all CMDA staff to present their current and upcoming contributions to the project. Useful feedback was provided by the committee, particularly in relation to the development and management of the archival website and public engagement events.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Postgraduate Training Day, Goldsmiths University 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Screen Studies Group Postgraduate Training Day, Goldsmiths University, 19 October 2019. Richard Rushton gave an overarching introduction to various aspects of the Cinema Memory and the Digital Archive (CMDA) project, while Sarah Neely presented on aspects of her past research - especially on Scottish cinemagoing - insofar as they are related to planned aspects of the CMDA project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.gold.ac.uk/media-communications/research/screen-studies-group/
 
Description Talks given at the University of Exeter 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Over the 29th and 30th of November, four members of the CMDA team (Richard Rushton, Annette Kuhn, Sarah Neely, and Jamie Terrill) attended the University of Exeter for a research trip. On the first evening, the CMDA team hosted a seminar for staff and postgraduate students, with each member of the team presenting a key element of the project. Richard presented an overview of CMDA, with particular focus on the design of the project and the proposed outcomes. Annette discussed the history of CMDA and the twenty-five years of projects, publications and other outputs that contributed to the Cinema Culture in 1930s Britain archive. Sarah explored the range of creative outputs that will be drawn from CMDA and their value as a means of engaging with the public. Finally, Jamie presented the practical challenges of digitising the archive and also discussed his plans for applying recent developments in cinema historiography to the archive's collections.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Talks given at the University of Sussex 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The team delivered a research seminar, which explored the aims and outputs of the CMDA project, to staff and students of the University's School of Media, Film and Music. A number of interesting questions were asked by attendees, along with some useful suggestions that the team have taken on board as they move forward with the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Visit to The Keep, Mass Observation Archive, Brighton 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The CMDA team visited the University of Sussex on February 19th, 2020. Taking full advantage of their time, the team explored the Mass Observation archive at The Keep, with Jamie and Sarah taking the opportunity to read through a number 1930s and 40s letters written to Picturegoer Magazine. In the early afternoon, the team met members of The Keep's archival staff to discuss digitisation and cataloguing processes, This proved to be very helpful, with the staff keen to stay in touch with us and happy to help with further queries. Following a productive afternoon at The Keep, the team delivered a research seminar, which explored the aims and outputs of the CMDA project, to staff and students of the University's School of Media, Film and Music. A number of interesting questions were asked by attendees, along with some useful suggestions that the team have taken on board as they move forward with the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020