Immersive Images 1820-1920: Bill Douglas Cinema Museum

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: English


This CDA project will explore the popularity of immersive and interactive images in visual culture 1820-1920. It will be based on the extensive and unique resources of the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, and would make a substantial contribution to both its public mission and to our understanding of the nature and development of 'immersive' media. Many new visual formats and optical devices in the period were characterised by their 'immersive' qualities: these could be experienced within the home or as part of a lecture, performance or fairground attraction. Circular and moving panoramas awed with enormous canvases; the diorama created illusionistic tableaux; stereographs beguiled with a 3D world, while the many varieties of peepshow promised a marvellously garish experience of patriotic battles and far-off places. If that was not enough, printed ephemera and toys, such as protean prints, mutoscopes and Kinora Viewers required an embodied spectator. 'Immersion' is often seen as a defining characteristic of contemporary digital media, but this CDA will elaborate a much longer genealogy. Within the broad parameters of the research project, the student will have the freedom to define and shape the projects, and to decide which formats and media to focus on.

Key Research Questions: What were the visual formats and devices offering an 'immersive' experience in the period 1820-1920? In what ways did they 'immerse' their viewers? How was 'immersion' characterised through a series of discourse and motifs prior to the invention of film? In what ways do contemporary devices and technologies remediate and build on a longer tradition? How does the BDC collection present an alternative history of immersive media through its games, novelty prints, devices, toys and everyday ephemera? How might such material be best exhibited by the BDC and other museums?

Research Collection: This CDA will augment and expand the work of the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, located at the University of Exeter, which is home to one of the largest collections of material relating to the moving image in Britain. It is both an accredited public museum and a research facility and holds a collection of over 80,000 items. The collection includes artefacts dating from the seventeenth century to the present day, covering all aspects of cinema, pre-cinema and the history of the moving image. The collection is diverse but is united by an emphasis on the audience's experience of the moving image. A key strength is its holdings of items relating to nineteenth-century moving, projected and 3D images, both in terms of devices, toys, pictorial media such as lantern slides, and printed ephemera. The collection, for example, contains 30 small peep shows and 70 peep show prints and vues d'optiques, as well as more than 1500 assorted stereoscope cards.

The BDC also has an excellent track record of enabling PhD scholarship and delivering Employability skills. This CDA will provide numerous value-added opportunities for the student to gain professional skills, training and experience; they will gain heritage and museum skills; contribute to a redisplay of the permanent galleries; curate a temporary exhibition based on the studentship; be trained in cataloguing and working with archival sources, including objects and printed ephemera. There would also be opportunities to contribute to the Public Engagement programme of the museum.


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