A Day at the Archives …. The Times (News UK Archives)

Hélène Maloigne, University College London (UCL)

4 June 2019


Tucked away in the corner of an industrial estate in northeast London is one of the country’s most important newspaper archives. The News UK Archives, which incorporate The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun, The TLS among others, are housed by a records management firm in one of its large storage facilities in Enfield. The small reading room provides access for only two to three researchers at a time and boasts an impressive library of books in addition to the correspondence files and newspaper issues.

I visited the archive conducting research for my PhD thesis, which explores how archaeologists in the interwar period communicated with the public. My main sources for this are the texts, and the visual and aural materials written and created by archaeologists for a general public. They offer a unique and underexplored source for the historian of the discipline of archaeology as much as for the historian of the interwar period. The sheer volume of books, articles and radio talks attest to the popularity of archaeology – whether it was practiced in Britain or abroad – across society and throughout the period. Focussing on British archaeologists working in Iraq, I explore the collaborative, socially and historically rooted character of archaeology. The history of archaeology is often told as a procession of great discoveries, leading scholars like Ariadne’s thread along a linear path of progress towards knowledge and the refinement of method. The men making these discoveries are often portrayed as lone explorers in an uncivilized foreign country ‘discovering’ lost cities, similar to the image of the scientist making ground-breaking discoveries shut away alone in his laboratory. Yet, it has been conclusively shown that science – and the generation of knowledge more generally – never happens in a social or historical vacuum. Similarly, archaeology is a collaborative activity, especially excavation or fieldwork.

My own background is in archaeology of the Ancient Near East and I still work in the field during the summer excavation seasons. But over the years I have become interested in how we as archaeologists talk to non-specialists. Many people I meet have a particular period in the past they are fascinated by and have visited museums or read books or seen films about it. While most archaeologists roll their eyes when someone mentions Indiana Jones I fully embrace the impact this character – and the real-life inspirations for it I study – has had on the popular imagination.

The interwar period (the setting for the Indiana Jones films) is often called the golden age of archaeology. It was a time of spectacular discoveries such as the tomb of Tutankhamun in Egypt, the amphitheatre at Caerleon in Wales, the Indus Valley civilization in modern-day Pakistan, or at Lubaantun in modern-day Belize. In the Middle East, archaeologists were working at Ur in southern Iraq, discovering the spectacular ‘Royal Graves’ of the 3rd millennium BC, digging down to the 5th millennium at Nineveh and finding a whole host of prehistoric sites which revolutionised the understanding of the development of urban spaces, the invention of writing, the domestication of animals and many other aspects of human society. The aesthetics of these ancient civilizations, so uncannily familiar and at the same time strikingly new, were taken up in modern art, fashion and applied arts, and clearly spoke to a wide range of readers (and listeners). This popularity allowed archaeologists with a talent for accessible writing to speak directly to their public.

Archaeology was, and still is, strongly intertwined with politics, the creation of national communities and, through its reliance on exploration and conquest, with the colonial and imperialist aspects of Western society. The demise of the Ottoman Empire after World War One had led to the creation of the British and French Mandate areas in the Middle East. The increase in archaeological activity in the 1920s and 1930s in Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon was dependent and facilitated by the ease of access to governing bodies, transport routes and local labour well-connected archaeologists enjoyed. In turn, this propelled fieldwork and analytical methods ahead in great strides, leading to a professionalization of the discipline, which expressed itself in the founding of university institutes, professional societies and academic journals.

My research looks at this intersection of archaeology; the making of the professional archaeologist and the public fascination for her/his work.

This somewhat long-winded introduction thus leads us back to my visit to the News UK Archive. The interwar years were an age of mass media, especially newspapers. The archaeologists I study were shrewd publicisers of their work, and newspapers and magazines of the Twenties and Thirties abound with articles written by archaeologists reporting on their work. But writing a newspaper article that captures the attention of the lay reader on her morning commute or at home after a long day at the office or the factory requires very different skills than publishing in a scholarly journal or presenting at a conference, and not all archaeologists were equally good at it. Charles Leonard Woolley (1880–1960), my main case study, was one of them. Between 1922 and 1937 he published 58 articles about his excavations at Ur in The Times (in addition to a number of other newspapers), and it was these I was interested in exploring further.

Woolley never held a university or curatorial position after his return from World War One intelligence work (he spent part of the war as a PoW in a Turkish camp), focussing instead on a career in fieldwork. Before his appointment as the director of the Ur excavations in 1922, he had worked in modern-day Turkey, Britain, Italy, Sudan and Egypt. The Ur excavations were co-funded by the British Museum and the University Museum – now called the Penn Museum at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia – but the project suffered from chronic underfunding, exacerbated by the Great Depression from 1929 onwards. Writing newspaper articles was therefore not only a great way of announcing discoveries, it also contributed significantly to Woolley’s uncertain income.

The Times had made one of its most successful arrangements with Howard Carter (1874–1939) and the 5th Earl of Carnarvon (1866–1923), the excavators of the tomb of Tutankhamun, which Carter discovered in 1922. The newspaper paid £5000 upfront for the exclusive rights to the story as well as for worldwide syndication. This demonstrated to readers, editors, newspaper proprietors and archaeologists alike that archaeology paid well. The Times thus approached Woolley proposing a similar arrangement, which he turned down, as he preferred not to be bound to one publication. Nevertheless, his articles appeared regularly in The Times and I wanted to know what price its editors put on archaeology. Unfortunately no correspondence between Woolley and staff at the newspaper’s offices survive, but Anne Jensen, Assistant Archivist at the News UK Archive, suggested I view microfilm copies of issues marked up with what a contributor had been paid for his or her article.

Figures 1 and 2: Marked-up copies of The Times, 7 July 1927

While I am mainly interested in articles published under the archaeologist’s name, these mark-ups are also particularly useful for understanding anonymous contributions, as the author’s name is recorded along with his fee. Woolley received between £3.2.0 in 1922 and £21.0.0 in 1928 for an article, the year of his major discoveries in the ‘Royal Graves’.[i] This wide scale is difficult to understand without further supporting archival material. The Times introduced its first picture page in 1922 or 1923 and photographs of the excavation were priced individually, usually at £1.0.0 or £1.1.0. Pictures, most often showing views of the site or objects, accompanied about half of the articles.

While article length and the number of images supplied certainly played a role, my research indicates that more significant, or rather more ‘spectacular’, discoveries commanded higher fees. But Woolley wrote not only about gods, graves and gold vessels; he also capitalized on the foreign and ‘exotic’ setting of his work. He often wrote about the people he worked with, and the support he received from his wife Katharine Elizabeth Woolley (1888–1945), an archaeologist, illustrator and author in her own right, and his foreman and life-long friend Sheik Hamoudi ibn Ibrahim el Awassi (c. 1875–1953). In these ‘life on a dig’ articles he talked about months spent in a barren landscape, working long hours, often from sunrise well into the night, overseeing a workforce of up to 400 men, and excavating anything from monumental temple towers to tiny fragments of gold leaf. These reports proved popular with The Times readers (as well as The Daily Mail, The Observer, and The Illustrated London News, where he also published) and Woolley wrote three to five of these per year, in addition to articles describing excavation results. The fees for these two types of articles did not differ substantially; the mark-ups show a range between £5 and £17 across the years I looked at.

The development of archaeology as a discipline is intricately bound up with its place in society. The better an archaeologist was at popularising his work and connecting with the public, the more successful he was in securing funding, commanding a place amongst his peers and subsequently contributing to the maturing of the discipline. We therefore must look beyond internalist accounts of methodological or theoretical ‘progress’ and the string of ‘great discoveries’ to understand how knowledge is created and shared both among professionals and with the public. Newspaper articles and archival material contribute substantially to this task and researchers will find a wealth of unexplored sources at News UK Archives.

Further information on the News UK Archives can be found at:

@NewsUKArchives

https://newslicensing.co.uk/en/page/show_home_page.html

The archive is open to accredited researchers on 2 days per week by appointment only. It is located near Southbury station in Enfield, north London.

Contact News UK Archives on: archive-sm@news.co.uk


[i]      The conversion of worth into current terms is notoriously difficult. https://www.measuringworth.com/index.php [Accessed 1 April 2019]


Hélène Maloigne is completing her PhD at the Department of History at UCL. Her study looks at the way in which British archaeologists working in the Middle East in the interwar period communicated with the public via books, newspapers and radio broadcasts. She has studied archaeology, ancient languages and art history in Switzerland and museum studies at UCL. She has worked in museums in Switzerland and the UK, as a teaching assistant at UCL and, since 2012, as the small finds registrar at the Tell Atchana/ancient Alalakh excavations in Turkey.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

A Day at the Archives…. National University of Ireland, Galway

Veronica Johnson, National University of Ireland, Galway

22 May 2019


I’m writing this blog while sitting in the archive that I’m about to describe. It’s a beautiful early spring day. To the right and in front of me I can see vast swathes of daffodils through the floor to ceiling windows that occupy two sides of the Special Collections Reading Room where all archives and special collections material are examined. It’s quite here today, just two other manuscript researchers and three online researchers.

I first came here in February 2017 when I was lucky enough to receive a Moore Institute fellowship https://mooreinstitute.ie/ which funds up to one month in this archive. This fellowship also provides a desk in the Hardiman research building and access to the main Hardiman library. I came to examine the Shield’s Family Archive and the Abbey Theatre Archive as part of my research into the Film Company of Ireland (1916-1920). I was interested in the relationship between this first significant Irish fiction film company and the Abbey Theatre as the owners of the Film Company of Ireland hired most of their actors and directors from the Abbey Theatre. Very little is known about this area, so I was delighted to have access to two archives that might shed some light on the interactions between the theatre and the film company.

The Shield’s Family Archive relates mostly to the actor Arthur Shields, who began his career in the Abbey Theatre and then had a long career in film and television in America. He is best known for his work with John Ford, playing the protestant minister in The Quiet Man (1952) when his more well-known brother William Joseph Shields (Barry Fitzgerald) played the matchmaker. One of the first Abbey Theatre actors that the Film Company of Ireland recruited was J. M. Kerrigan. Kerrigan was well-known as a versatile, comic character actor in the Abbey. He was in charge of training young actors and in this capacity, he became a mentor for Arthur Shields when he joined the Abbey in 1914. Kerrigan directed the first films for the Film Company of Ireland in 1916 and 1917 as well as acting in them. He was also one of the first people to invest in the company and seems to have acted as a casting director for the company also. I had hoped to find out more information about J. M. Kerrigan from the Shields archive and it did not disappoint. The friendship between these two men began when Shields joined the Abbey in 1914 and lasted until Kerrigan’s death in 1964. Of particular help in this archive were letters from Shields and Kerrigan, clippings of newspaper interviews and drafts of a biography of Arthur Shields by his wife Laurie Shields. This archive gave a context to the acting methods of the Abbey Theatre at that time, methods which were greatly influenced by Kerrigan in his role as tutor. As none of the films by J. M. Kerrigan for the Film Company of Ireland are known to have survived, it was useful to examine accounts of the acting methods he used in theatre and to compare this to press reviews of the films which he directed.

J. M. Kerrigan. Shields Family Archive. T13/B/269. National University of Ireland, Galway

I then turned to the second archive I examined in this period, the archive of the Abbey Theatre itself, digitised and available to search in the Special Collections reading room. This is a large archive containing programmes, minutes of meetings, photography of actors, sets and plays, scripts, administrative and production files. This archive proved very useful in tracing the careers of J. M. Kerrigan and also Fred O’Donovan, the second major actor recruited from the Abbey. O’Donovan was a leading actor at the Abbey who also directed plays there and who subsequently went on to manage the theatre. By examining theatre programmes and minutes of meetings in this archive I was able to trace the movement of Kerrigan and O’Donovan between their stage acting and their film acting.

The archive and special collections of the National University of Ireland, Galway opens from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday with late opening until 9pm on Tuesdays during term time. The holdings of the archive can be examined at http://archivesearch.library.nuigalway.ie/. Booking is not required, although it is a good idea to get in touch with the archive in advance of your visit so that the materials you want will be available when you arrive. Document retrieval times are 10:00, 12:00 and 15:00. A registration form is required before accessing the archive and a Register must be signed on each entry into the Special Collections Reading Room. There are lockers for personal possessions, only pencils and laptops are permitted for notetaking. Permission must be requested before photographing or photocopying items. The staff are excellent, incredibly knowledgeable about the holdings and extremely pleasant and helpful. They do everything they can to make accessing the archives and consulting them pleasant and easy. As it is situated in the National University of Ireland, Galway, the archive is close to a number of restaurants and coffee shops on campus. The university itself is located about 15 minutes from the centre of Galway city where there is a variety of places to eat and sleep. In addition to the archives mentioned above, there are a number of other archives related to film and media history. These include the Huston Family Collection, an archive of scripts and production material and legal documents from the films of John Huston, mostly relating to his final film The Dead, the Éamon de Buitléar Collection, a collection of video, audio and manuscripts from the wildlife broadcaster and film-maker, the Diaries of Joseph Holloway (1895-1944), a regular attendee of theatre and cinema in Dublin, an invaluable source of information about the entertainment scene in Dublin during this period, and the Killanin Collection of books on film, literature and art from Michael Morris, 3rd Baron Killanin, film producer.

Galway is a warm, welcoming, compact and lively city with a good arts scene. Any trip to the archives at the National University of Ireland, Galway will be complemented by all that the city has to offer, not to mention the beauties of the Burren and Connemara close by. If you do make the journey, come over and say hello, I’ll be sitting close to one of the many windows knee-deep in all the archive has to offer on early Irish cinema and film.


Veronica Johnson teaches film studies at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Her research focuses on the Film Company of Ireland (1916-1920), early cinema and the cinematic unconscious. A recent attendee at the IAMHIST masterclass, her article “Dublin cinemas in 1916 and the growth of the middle-class audience” is forthcoming from the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

Report: British Women Documentary Filmmakers, 1930 – 1955 Symposium, 5 April 2019, London School of Economics (LSE)

Llewella Chapman, University of East Anglia

7 May 2019


I attended this event with great anticipation, and I was most definitely not disappointed. The symposium was organised by Sadie Wearing (London School of Economics), who is part of the team working on the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)-funded project ‘Jill Craigie: Film Pioneer’, alongside Yvonne Tasker (University of Leeds), Lizzie Thynne (University of Sussex) and Adele Tulli (University of Sussex).

The three-year project, which began in October 2018, is researching the documentary filmmaker Jill Craigie as an entry point to ‘interrogate the historical frameworks and the canon of the British Documentary Film Movement which have undervalued women’s contribution to the genre.’ As part of this, the project makes use of primary sources held by archives, predominantly Craigie’s papers held by the Women’s Library at the LSE, as well as holdings available in the British Film Institute (BFI), the British Entertainment History Project (BEHP, formally BECTU), The Arts Institute (Plymouth), The Forum (Norwich) and the Stanley Spencer Gallery. The main aim of the project is to question ‘what we can learn from a pioneering woman’s career about the inequalities which persist in the creative industries today.’ You can visit here for more information.

Most pleasing on attending the symposium was discovering that not only were there a range of papers and methodological approaches offered toward the researching of women documentary filmmakers during this period, but most importantly, the research was being conducted by a range of scholars and archivists at different levels, from PhD students to professors. All of the papers were of a consistently high quality. Alongside this, it quickly became evident that everyone attending the symposium was fully engaged with one another’s scholarship, and the symposium provided a very supportive environment in which to provide further platforms for future collaboration and research.

Fiona Kelly, Film Curator at the Imperial War Museums (IWM), began the day by introducing films by and about women during World War II held by the archive, including documentaries, informational and instructional films made by Joy Batchelor, Louise Birt, Jill Craigie, Mary Field, Ruby Grierson, Kay Mander and Margaret Thomson. In her paper, Kelly considered three main strands: firstly, the role of women behind the camera; secondly, how women were represented on screen; finally, the target audience, where Kelly noted that before female conscription, film shorts were aimed at women in their ‘traditional’ roles and domestic issues, however as the war progressed, the documentaries and dramas adapted to inform women about the different types of work and war service available to them. Kelly informed the audience of the films held by the IWM, and two Ruby Grierson films are available to view on its website: Choose Cheese (1940) and They Also Serve (1942). Another film shown was Dustbin Parade (1940), an animation short by John Halas and Joy Batchelor for the Ministry of Information (MoI):

Dustbin Parade (Halas and Batchelor, 1942)

Following Kelly’s excellent introduction, the first panel of the day continued with Toby Haggith (IWM) explaining that the majority of documentary and instructional films made by women were often concerned with ‘traditional’ issues such as welfare, health, children and the domestic sphere. Haggith went on to focus his paper on the women filmmakers’ contribution to debates on slum clearance and town planning, including Field’s Development of the English Town (1943), Mander’s New Builders (1944) and Homes for the People (1945), Budge Cooper’s Children of the City (1945), and Craigie’s The Way We Live (1946).

This was followed by Charlotte Hallahan’s (University of East Anglia) compelling research conducted into Rosie Newman, a British socialite and amateur filmmaker, and provided an insight into how Newman recorded daily civilian and military life during World War II. The focus of Hallahan’s paper was on Newman’s colour film Britain at War (1946):

Excerpt from Britain at War (Rosie Newman, 1946), courtesy of IWM

Hallahan argued that the theory of the flâneur (Walter Benjamin, developed by Lauren Elkin) can be adopted and used to analyse Newman’s film in relation to her ability to traverse the landscape of a blitzed-London at will, and personal freedom with which to document the events. It became clear during Hallahan’s excellent paper that Newman’s ability to achieve this was in part due to her socio-economic class, where Newman had a ‘little black book’ of people with which to acquire colour film stock, etc.

The final paper in this panel was delivered by Hollie Price (Queen Mary, University of London), who drew upon her extensive and fascinating archival research in to the MoI’s Film Division and its work in film distribution to present on the MoI’s non-theatrical film scheme, launched in 1940, where a fleet of mobile film units were used to screen films for free in a variety of locations including village halls, social clubs, libraries and factory canteens. Price also discussed the informal collaborations between the MoI and the Women’s Voluntary Service and the Women’s Institute. Price is working as a post-doctoral researcher on the AHRC-funded MoI Digital project, which you can read more about here.

After lunch, the second panel began with Sarah Easen (independent film historian) discussing how film historians often conflate John Grierson’s British Documentary Film Movement with documentary filmmakers generally, leading to the marginalisation of those operating outside the movement. Therefore, Easen sought to address this in her engrossing paper by focussing on the work of Mander and Thomson, including showing Thomson’s informational film Making of a Compost Heap (1941):

Making of a Compost Heap (Margaret Thomson, 1941), courtesy of BFI

Easen explained that while both Mander and Thomson achieved success in directing documentary films, neither were able to break into directing fictional feature films, with Mander returning to continuity work after being told by Michael Balcon of Ealing Studios that a woman ‘couldn’t control a male crew,’ and Thomson retiring from filmmaking in 1977 after setting up a production company in the 1950s with her husband Bill Ash. Easen provides further information on Mander’s and Thomson’s careers here and here.

Next, Helen Hughes (University of Surrey) presented on her research completed to date on ‘tracking down’ Diana Pine, a member of the Crown Film Unit between 1943 – 1951, who worked on the science films Faster than Sound (1949) and Atoms at Work (1952). Explaining that Pine was another women filmmaker whose work has been ‘hidden from view’ (in part due to Pine having to sign the Official Secrets Act), Hughes explained that Pine is an important inclusion in the work being conducted into British women documentary filmmakers due to her directing of science-based films as opposed to ‘traditional’ women-based subjects. Hughes has published her research on Pine to date in her research note ‘The story of Atoms at Work’ in Screen (Vol. 60, Issue: 1, Spring 2019, pp. 172-180).

Charles Drazin (Queen Mary, University of London) completed the panel by providing further insight into Craigie’s work through discussing his interview with Craigie as part of his research for his book The Finest Years: British Cinema of the 1940s (revised edition, London: I.B. Tauris, 2007). Drazin provided delegates with ‘impressions’ he obtained of Craigie from his interview, and specifically focussed on her directing of Out of Chaos (1944) and The Way We Live. Drazin also provided the context behind Craigie’s professional relationship with Filippo Del Giudice. You can listen to one of Craigie’s interviews published on the BEHP website here.

In the final panel of the day, Ros Cranston (BFI) started by examining the career of Marion Grierson in order to question modify the story of the ‘documentary boys’ in British film history, explaining that this was in part because of academic scholarship overlooking Marion’s work, and can also be attributed to the lack of credits at the time, leading to later mistakes through mis-crediting or omitting Marion in contemporary film reviews: a specific example being The Heart of an Empire (1935). Focussing on Beside the Seaside (1935), Cranston analysed this film in terms of its wittiness, lyricism and inventiveness, and explained that Marion believed: “There was of course prejudice against women in practically every activity,” in relation to the difference it made being a woman making a documentary, neatly linking back to Easen’s paper on Mander and Thomson in the previous panel.

Gillian Murphy (Curator, LSE Women’s Library) followed by building on from Drazin’s paper through an excellent analysis of Craigie and the rich resource of papers available which are held by the LSE Women’s Library. Murphy’s paper offered an illuminating insight into Craigie’s feminist politics, and her inspiration behind wanting make a film about the suffragette movement based on her reading of The Suffragette Movement (Sylvia Pankhurst, 1931):

Before reading the book it had not occurred to me to question the situation between the sexes, least of all had I thought that it might be changed, though it was evident that men on he whole lived a far more agreeable and interesting life. (Jill Craigie, quoted by Gillian Murphy)

In the event, the film sadly remained unrealised, in part due to not being able to satisfy the needs of those involved in the movement. Following this, Murphy analysed the making of To Be A Woman (1952), and how Craigie was commissioned to make the film by women’s organisations actively campaigning in achieving equal pay. A crowd-funding campaign was launched by the Equal Pay Campaign Committee (EPCC) to provide the £5,000 necessary for Craigie to make the film was eventually successful, the realised film did not return the investment.

To Be A Woman (Jill Craigie, 1952)

Tashi Petter (Queen Mary, University of London) offered a riveting paper on the work of Lotte Reiniger, and explained that while Reiniger is credited for the silhouette animation technique and as the director of the earliest-surviving animated feature-length film The Adventures of Prince Ahmed (1926), therefore holding an important position in the history of animation, Reiniger’s work in the area of ‘useful’ cinema has received less attention, something which Petter aims to address in her research.

Tashi Petter on ‘Sponsored Silhouettes: the fairy tale information films of Lotte Reiniger in Britain’, courtesy of Lizzie Thynne

Making extensive use of archive sources, Petter explored questions of gender and nationality, and focussed on the commissioning of Reiniger’s work produced for the General Post Office (GPO) Film Unit and Crown Film Unit. Petter explained that Reiniger’s work was heavily influenced by folklore narratives and fairy tales, leading to a ‘highly decorative, pretty and “feminine” aesthetic’. In her paper, Petter argued that these films demonstrate how Reiniger’s silhouettes are ‘inherently connected to her identity as a German émegré, and for her recognition in the production of ‘useful’ cinema, and analysed The Tocher (1938) as part of this:

The Tocher (Lotte Reiniger, 1938), courtesy of Thomas Sheppard

Finally, Melanie Williams (University of East Anglia) provided a very welcome introduction to amateur women filmmakers in the interwar and post-war period, particularly on non-fiction films, a term which encompasses different modes, including documentary, actuality, home movies and travelogues, building upon Hallahan’s analysis of Newman’s amateur filmmaking practices. Williams’ offered a close analysis of the husband-and-wife filmmaking team of Stuart and Laurie Day who were based in Stoke on Trent, and together produced non-fiction films between the 1930s and 1960s, where their prize-winning films form part of the Institute of Amateur Cinematographers (IAC) film collection held by the East Anglian Film Archive. Williams’ paper investigated how amateur filmmaking tended to be much more collaborative, which were strongly embedded within marital and familial leisure-cultures, as exemplified by the Day’s film, 1938 – The Last Year of Peace (1948), compiled from fragments of film shot before the outbreak of WWII, which only received ‘highly commended’ in the IAC Awards much to Laurie Day’s displeasure. As part of this analysis, Williams also pointed out the Day’s somewhat amusing, apparently subconscious, almost Freudian obsession with fruit throughout the film, which was used by the Day’s to reflect the changing of the seasons in the film.  Williams’ explained that this example highlights that this type of amateur film can offer reflection and commentary on social change and offers ‘a richly suggestive point of comparison for the contemporaneous work of professional female documentarists.’

Melanie Williams on ‘Women working in amateur non-fiction film: family, history, home, abroad’, courtesy of Lizzie Thynne

Following the final panel, the project team working on ‘Jill Craigie: Film Pioneer’ explained their planned outputs for the project, namely a book-length study co-authored by Tasker and Wearing, and a experimental documentary biopic about Craigie, produced by Thynne and Tulli. Delegates were then offered a treat, where the team introduced us to an 8-minute trailer for the documentary on Craigie.

In the plenary-round table to finish off the day, Isabel Seguí (University of St Andrews) introduced delegates to her website which Seguí designed based on a Scottish University University Research Collections Associate Scheme Grant, where she researched the project ‘The Grierson Sisters at the Grierson Collection’ (University of Stirling, 2018). This website will prove to be an invaluable teaching and research resource for those working in the area of documentary filmmaking.

Isabella Seguí, courtesy of Lizzie Thynne

Pat Holland (University of Bournemouth) and Sue Harper (University of Portsmouth) then offered their individual summaries on the variety of papers presented throughout the day, and their thoughts on going forward to research the history of women documentary filmmakers. Harper offered the following points for further thought beyond the symposium:

  1. Agency and autonomy. To what extent did companies inhibit or encourage female creativity, and why?
  2. Kinship networks. There are obviously familial or marriage connections to take into account, but we also need to ask ourselves whether, and when, there were “old girls’ networks”
  3. Do female documentarists operate as boundary walkers, policing the ground between the old and the new? Do they function best from the margins?
  4. We need to think about discourse. What cultural resources do female documentarists deploy, and how does their intellectual capital differ from that of male workers in the field?

Final round table: Isabel Suigí, Pat Holland and Sue Harper, courtesy of Lizzie Thynne

This event was free to attend, thanks to the sponsorship provided by the AHRC, and provided an abundance of the riches (or should that be cheese and fruit?) to enjoy from the research conducted by those presenting papers on women documentary filmmakers. Watch out John: Diana, Joy, Kay, Lisa, Lotte, Margaret, Marion, Mary, Rosie and Ruby are coming, and their voices are now finally being heard.


Dr Llewella Chapman is a film historian and an Associate Tutor at the University of East Anglia. Her research interests include British cinema, gender, heritage and costume design.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

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