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University of Exeter - Bill Douglas Centre for the History of Film and Popular Culture


This project runs for two years and started in Autumn 2001 when Dr John Plunkett took up his position as Junior Research Fellow. The reserach emerges out of two specific questions posed by the existence of the Bill Douglas Centre for the History of Cinema and Popular Culture:

  1. As a popular entertainment medium just how much of a novelty, or break from the past, did cinema constitute?
  2. How much influence did the comparative context of other optical entertainments, such as the camera obscura, the magic lantern, the panorama & diorama and the peep show, have on the cinema's formation?
The Bill Douglas Centre has been founded on a conceptual link between the cinema and pre-existing forms of optical entertainment and visual media. It houses a collection of some 50,000 books and artefacts relating the the cinema's history and pre-history in a combined research centre and public museum.

Particular issues will be explored in detail, including:

  1. The industrial practices and regulatory frameworks relating to the cinema and other optical entertainments - their emergence, organisation and operation.
  2. The distinct technologies on which these media were founded - the technologies economic and social significance (i.e. did the technology itself constitute the economic potential and attraction of the specific medium or was it primarily a delivery system for particular kinds of images?).
  3. The economic and social organisation of audiences and the consumption of these media in both a public and a domestic context
  4. The dominant aesthetic and ideological formations determining the kind of images produced and consumed including dominant kinds of subject matter and generic categories

Two key issues within the context of the consumption of pre-cinematic optical media will be given particular consideration:

  1. The identification and mapping of distinct public and domestic spheres of consumption. This not only acknowledges that these media were produced for different kinds of markets but also that the public popularity of such entertainments as the panorama, peep show or lantern was complemented by the consumption of domestic versions of these media. This also provides an opportune link with research into domestic image production and consumption in the 20th century.
  2. The particular history of large format and projected images from the panorama to the magic lantern to early cinema to wide and big screen cinema formats up to and including Imax. This foregrounds the issue of spectacle as a key element in the constitution and functioning of popular entertainment. The organisation of large screen spectacle also poses interesting questions concerning the organisation and regulation of audiences and the social and psychological aspects of the spectating process itself.


Professor Steve Neale
Bill Douglas Centre for the History of Cinema and Popular Culture
School of English
University of Exeter
Queen's Building
The Queen's Drive
Exeter EX4 4QH

01392 262071




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