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Queen Mary research frames a new take on cinema culture

Unique insight into 1930s Britain is revealed in a new archive thanks to research by Annette Kuhn, Emeritus Professor in Film Studies at Queen Mary University of London.

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Professor Kuhn has been working since the 1990s on a large-scale pioneering nationwide inquiry, entitled ‘Cinema Culture in 1930s Britain’ (CCINTB), exploring how audiences relate to and remember the experience of going to watch films. The project’s latest achievement is a new digital archive, created in a three-year collaboration with Lancaster University and the University of Glasgow, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. 

Working with Lancaster’s Professor Richard Rushton and Glasgow’s Professor Sarah Neely, Professor Kuhn has painstakingly catalogued and digitised a wealth of historical materials related to cinema culture in inter-war Britain and the cinema-going experience more generally. Now the new digital archive means all these materials are freely available to members of the public and academic researchers, including:

  • Interviews with members of the general public who were regular cinemagoers in the UK during the 1930s. All of the interviews, originally conducted in the 1990s, have been transcribed, so visitors to the website can search accurate transcriptions of the interviews and read along while listening to them
  • Some 315 questionnaires completed by 1930s cinemagoers from across the UK
  • More than 500 letters, essays and written memoirs received from interviewees and questionnaire respondents
  • More than 200 items of cinemagoing memorabilia and artefacts from the 1930s (diaries, postcard collections, scrapbooks, cinema programmes, posters, magazines), mostly donated by informants

Professor Kuhn commented: “It’s hugely gratifying that this unique archive of treasured cinemagoing memories is seeing the light of day after so many years. I would like to think that everyone who explores our digital archive will find something of interest, and perhaps be as inspired as I have been through much of my working life by the testimonies of this ‘movie-made’ generation.”

The project has also included an array of special events, including a screening of the German classic Girls in Uniform on Queen Mary’s Mile End campus, as well as a public event at Bolton Little Theatre when an attendee donated a collection of movie star postcards and other memorabilia. The most recent event in Glasgow, held in October 2022, included eye-catching sketches of the city’s cinemas by 94-year-old former cinema projectionist Thomas McGoran.

Continuing this work, the research team will look to publish an edited collection of academic essays on Cinema Memory and Culture. Professor Kuhn is also currently expanding on some cinemagoers’ expressions of “being transported to another world” which she first outlined in her 2002 book, 'An Everyday Magic: Cinema and Cultural Memory'.

Find out more about Film Studies at Queen Mary

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