Calling all new Exeter students: An introduction to heritage at the University of Exeter Streatham campus, as the start of the new academic year approaches

As the new academic year looms, academic staff within the University of Exeter are preparing for new visitors, new projects and new research.

A defining feature of Heritage practice at the University of Exeter is its scope. Through a combination of digital and physical heritage work, particularly in the last year, the preservation of heritage for future generations has become a focal point of heritage work. Encompassing a range of disciplines, heritage practice at the university continues to generate social, political and environmental conversations, as artefacts, research findings and literature help shape the cultural landscape of the south west.

Alongside this, the University of Exeter is part of a wider heritage network. It holds a number of Memorandum’s of Understanding (MoU’s) with heritage organisations in the south west, with a view to developing and generating projects and opportunities within the heritage space. Currently, the university has MoU’s with the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM), Exeter Cathedral, Powderham Castle, South West Fed, The Charles Causley Trust, Wells Cathedral and Cornwall Museums Partnership. In addition, the University has a long standing partnership with the National Trust, that at present specifically focuses on environmental and cultural change, supporting wildlife renewal and improving wellbeing through nature. To find out more about Exeter’s partnerships, see the Exeter Heritage website.

Beginning with physical heritage at the university, you can visit the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum (BDCM), The Northcott Theatre and the Special Collections. Having reopened in May after being closed for several months, the BDCM is open for visitors every day between 10am and 5pm. Home to one of the largest collections of material on the moving image in Britain, the museum documents the development of optical entertainment from shadow-puppets and 17th century books on projection, to the most recent Hollywood blockbusters, including artefacts such as Magic Lanterns, rare books, prints, and an extensive variety of publicity materials. The academic research facility and accredited public museum commemorates British filmmaker Bill Douglas (1934-1991), whose work includes the Bill Douglas Trilogy (1972-78) and Comrades (1987).

Over at The Northcott Theatre, performances have returned, ranging from comedy stand-up shows to dance and drama productions. Having first opened its doors in November 1967 as the first arts centre in UK to have been built on university land, the Northcott quickly built a reputation as a venue that fostered new writing talent and pushed boundaries, playing a key role in the development of the careers of actors such as Celia Imrie, Robert Lindsay, Diana Rigg, Imelda Staunton, and John Nettles. September’s programme includes ‘The Three Musketeers – a Comedy Adventure’ and ‘Infinite ways home,’ a multisensory production that explores ritual, rave and human connection. All of Northcott Theatre’s events can be viewed via their website. The Theatre is located just prior to the top of Forum Hill.

Exeter’s rich literary history is preserved in the university’s Special Collections, which you can find in the Old Library. The Special Collections hold archives, rare books and manuscript resources covering all subject areas. Major highlights of the collection include Twentieth Century South West Writing, Literature and Visual Culture, Victorian Culture and Imperial Endeavour, Arab and Islamic Studies, and Religious and Parish book collections.

Famous writers held within the Archives, many of which were born in the south west, include Daphne du Maurier, Charles Causley, William Golding, Ted Hughes, Agatha Christie and Henry Williamson. Archive material from Special Collections can be viewed in the newly reopened Ronald Duncan Reading Room, Monday-Friday between 10 am and 5pm. Appointments must be made in advance by contacting .

In addition to the physical literary heritage at the university, the Digital Humanities Lab uses digital methods and practices to preserve material and further academic research, making literary texts more accessible and more widely understood. Their current projects include the Thomas Hardy Heritage project, a collaboration with Dorset Museum that has digitised Victorian writer Thomas Hardy’s letters, The Poetry of the Lancashire Cotton Famine, which aims to create a database of digitised poems from this period, and the Exeter Book Project, a joint project with Exeter Cathedral that has produced a new website with accessible images of the ancient anthology of poetry.

Look out for more information via the Exeter Heritage website or follow us on Twitter @UoEHeritage, for updates on the #heritage events to check out during this year’s Fresher’s Week.

How can you support heritage this Summer and Autumn in the south west? Some events to add to your calendar

It has been three months since the reopening of heritage sites across the UK. At the University of Exeter, the galleries at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum (BDCM are now open every day from 10am to 5pm and the Northcott Theatre is hosting a variety of theatre productions and stand-up comedy nights, throughout the remainder of the summer and into the Autumn.

In the city centre, The Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) is hosting a mix of online and physical events. In August and September, the museum is running two one-day-only virtual events: ‘Taxidermy explained: Preserving and recreating RAMM’s beaver’ (25th August), and ‘The art of hand-modelled plaster with Geoffrey Preston’ (22nd September). Leading into October and November, the monthly one-day-events include ‘Feathers, Fashion and Feminism with Tessa Boase’ (21st October) and ‘Farthing Breakfasts and Penny Dinners with Julia Neville’ (17th November). On the physical front, the RAMM is hosting a guided mindfulness event every Sunday from the 10th of October to the 28th of November. The six free sessions invite you to explore artefacts in the museum collection using mindfulness. For a wider programme of RAMM’s Autumn events, see their website.

Venturing into the winter, Exeter Cathedral are hosting their annual Christmas Market from the 18thof November until the 18th of December. Follow the Cathedral’s social media pages (@ExeterCathedral) for updated information as the event approaches.

Moving to Somerset, Wells Cathedral are hosting the Festival of the Moon from the 12th of October until the 3rd of November. The ‘Museum of the Moon’ is a touring artwork by Luke Jerram, which fuses lunar imagery, moonlight and surround sound composition created by BAFTA and Ivor Novello award winning composer, Dan Jones. The event will be led by Helen Sharman, the first British astronaut. Tickets cost between £25 and £40 and can be purchased via Eventbrite.

At Powderham Castle, the ‘Forest and Feasts’ art exhibition will take place from the 12th-23rd of September. The event features work from over 400 local artists and art groups in Devon. Then on the 2nd and 3rd of October, the castle will host its Food Festival, an event that has been taking place for ten years. Entry costs £4 for children, £9 for adults and £22 for families and can be purchased via: Leading into November and December, Powderham is hosting two ‘Music in the Castle’ events. The first, on the 15th of October, features Meraki Duo with Meera Maharaj – flute and James Girling – guitar. The second event, on the 17th of December, features the 8 voices of Powderham Consort with Divertimento and David Davies – organ. In addition to this, the Michaelmas Fair will take place on the 4thof November. For further information, check out Powderham’s event list.

Exeter City of Literature will be continuing their series ‘Quay Words’ into the autumn on the 1st and 15th  of September. The events are held online via Zoom and are free, but places must be booked in advance. Also in September, the Budleigh Literary Festival is returning for five days of literary talks, workshops and readings. The event will run from the 14th until the 18th of September and you can book here.

Be sure to check out the Exeter Arts and Culture exhibition ‘A Language of Seeds’, developed by Devon-based artist Léonie Hampton, which is coming to an end on the 5th of September. Other exhibitions such as ‘Turner’s Travels,’ which digitally showcases a series of 19th century engravings in the University’s fine art collection, are ongoing.

In addition, watch this space, or visit the Charles Causley Trust’s website, for news on our Heritage partner’s upcoming International Poetry Competition.





















The Annual Heritage round up: The University of Exeter’s heritage achievements in the 2020/2021 academic year

The start of the 2020/2021 academic year marked the beginning of a new hybridity in the heritage sector. As the Coronavirus pandemic shut universities, museums and heritage sites across the UK, the sector launched a commitment to a new age of digital heritage that would prove essential for heritage practice over the next year.

Exhibiting, exploring and preserving heritage has shifted dramatically at the University of Exeter. Beginning with the Hidden Cities project, a collaborative project funded by the university and a number of heritage institutions across Europe, historical monuments and sites were brought to screens. App users were able to explore a series of European cities (including Exeter) and their histories from their isolation at home. At the time, co-creator Professor Fabrizio Nevola, Director of the Centre for Early Modern Studies at the university, said that the project illustrated the importance of digitizing heritage during the pandemic, in order to continue the investigation of spaces that were not accessible.

Where physical heritage work was halted, digital heritage practice allowed for new creative projects. As part of the Arts Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and BBC series, ‘Culture in Quarantine,’ Exeter Professor Naomi Sykes and Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Sean Doherty co-produced an animated film that told the story of one of Britain’s most mysterious animals — the hare. The entire project, which drew artistically from the 1978 film Watership Down, was conducted remotely. The film can be watched via the BBC Arts and culture website.

As creative projects were digitised, so too were heritage events. In April 2021, PhD student Bradley Osborne and colleague Dr Arabella Currie led a virtual symposium on the work of Cornish-born author William Golding. Famous for his first novel Lord of the Flies (1954), some of Golding’s work is held in the university’s Special Collections and archives. In examining a range of papers by national and international academics, the digital event sought to reframe Golding’s work and re-establish it as a viable field of study for future scholars.

In addition to its literary heritage, the pandemic called for further exploration of the heritage within the walls of the university. This year, the Northcott Theatre hosted a virtual event exploring the stories of women newly discovered in the theatre’s archive collection. The live streamed event, which featured a panel of women who are developing Exeter’s current arts and cultural landscape, showcased stories that had been discovered as part of the archival project. From this, the event emphasised how the knowledge collected can be used to shape the future culture of Exeter and the South West.

On the Arts and Humanities front, the University was awarded £200,000 by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to take arts and humanities research beyond higher education to drive social change. The award was given to Professor of Shakespeare and Early Modern Performance Studies, Pascale Aebischer, who will work with a huge range of academics throughout the UK on Covid-19 projects supported by the AHRC with over £16 million. The two-year programme will help connect, support and showcase over 70 AHRC projects which broadly cover three themes: the impact of Covid-19 on the cultural and creative sector; ethical, regulatory and human rights issues in responses to Covid-19; and communication and public health during the pandemic.

On partnership, the university has renewed and formed several Memorandums of Understanding (MOU’s) with south west heritage organisations over the past year. In September 2020, the university signed an MOU with The Charles Causley Trust, following previous work together as part of the Trust’s Festival of Arts and Literature, maximising the Causley Archive held in the University Special Collections and developing partnership working with English Heritage. The university also renewed its agreement with Cornwall Museum’s Partnership (CMP), signed a new partnership with the National Trust and with Wells Cathedral. An MOU with English Heritage is pending.

From January to May 2021, the University of Exeter worked with heritage partner The Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) on a Strategic Priority Fund project to develop collaboration and the way in which heritage and culture is collated across the city with the City Council. In addition to this, alongside longstanding heritage partner Exeter Cathedral, the Digital Humanities Lab at the university successfully digitised the Exeter Book, a tenth-century anthology of poetry. In creating a new website, images of the ancient text are now accessible to view in incredible clarity. The launch of the digitised book took place over Zoom, with colleagues from the cathedral and the university present.

During the last academic year, the university have carried out six Professional Pathways internships and two Widening Participation (WP) internships, one of which has been extended until the Autumn.

To read more about the rise of digital heritage in the sector, see our recent blog pieces written by Exeter students: For heritage news at the University of Exeter, see:

Internship work in the Heritage Sector: University of Exeter interns Anna Craig and Ani Kvantidze discuss their internship experience with heritage partner, Wells Cathedral.

As part of its scheme to research new audiences for a major new outreach and inclusion project, Wells Cathedral ran a four-week internship project through the IKEEP (Intrapreneurial Knowledge Exchange Enterprise Pathway) with University of Exeter interns.

Wells Cathedral is home to a thriving spiritual, musical and historical community stretching back nearly 850 years. The Cathedral has an international reputation and is the recipient of several tourism awards, having recently achieved a Silver Eco Church Award.

Described as the ‘most poetic’ of the English cathedrals, Wells was the first to be built in the Gothic style. The iconic West Front with its 300 medieval carvings and the 14thcentury Scissor Arches are highlights of the Cathedrals architecture.

The interns’ main priority was to identify areas across Somerset where cases of rural isolation, digital poverty, affordable housing, low skilled employment and unemployment are highest. In doing so, they identified groups operating within these areas, including community groups, schools, outreach programmes. From this, they designed a consultation questionnaire to ascertain the core needs of the identified groups around education and employment, alongside areas of operation that the Cathedral could potentially support through its music, education and volunteer programmes.

In carrying out consultation with the identified groups, the students produced a report that identifed groups that would like to engage further with the Cathedral and also recommendations for the type of engagement that they would find most beneficial.

According to Jonathan Sawyer, Development Director at Wells Cathedral, the limited time available to produce the project outcomes meant that the onus was placed on the interns to work collaboratively to devise, agree and deliver a project plan to meet the agreed deadline. Jonathan tells us that, “each of the interns used their initiative to creatively circumnavigate challenges that arose, particularly around obtaining responses to consultation in a very short time frame.”

Telling us about her experience, Anna Craig said that one of the most rewarding experiences of the internship was interacting with charities and finding out about the amazing work they accomplished: “by getting to know such a diverse set of organisations I feel I can now adapt my communication style to fit any group,” Anna told us.

However, Anna admits that the internship posed challenges: “despite formulating our survey with the intention of using phone surveys, many organisations did not have the time to chat with us. However, we successfully adapted our strategy, making a new online survey which organisations could complete in their own time.”

Discussing the skills that they have gained, Ani said: “I have definitely gained valuable skills [from the internship]. Firstly, I learnt to work within a large organisation. I learnt to work and communicate within a team, while taking initiative and working independently. I had a chance to take part in brainstorming sessions and plan the project as a team. I also advanced my research and analytical skills. I learnt to prioritise tasks and make decisions.”

Both Anna and Ani emphasised that the internship experience improved their understanding of the heritage sector. For Anna, the internship gave her a whole new perspective — she told us that: “previously, I viewed [the sector] as a purely cultural and historical field. I now understand the integral role of heritage within local communities in creating a sense of unity within localities. Wells Cathedral has fuelled my passion to work within the heritage sector, and I look forward to seeing the results our research project brings.”

According to Ani, after this internship, they realised how much work there is in the heritage sector: “thanks to the format of the project, I actually had a chance to communicate with the local communities and I got an impressive insight into what their reality is. I also got an insight into the organism of the heritage sector, and I realised that engaging the local communities is the most important aspect of it.”

On reflection of the Wells Cathedral outreach and inclusion project and the internship experience, Jonathan Sawyer told us that, “throughout the work, the interns all showed great maturity and professionalism which resulted in a piece of work that will directly influence and contribute to a multi-million-pound project, and for which they should be very proud.”

To find out more about Wells Cathedral, see: and for more information about internship opportunities at the University of Exeter, see:



Public History Project: First Marquis, Charles Cornwallis

In our undergraduate second year module Public History Project, we were given the exciting opportunity to work with the Kresen Kernow archive of Cornwall to complete a project which helped us to develop our understanding of historical events and diversified our skills as historians. Our task was to transcribe fifty letters from the archive’s collection on First Marquis, Charles Cornwallis, from his time as the Governor General of India in the late eighteenth century. The project taught us both practical skills through our analysis of Cornwallis’ letters to his son, Charles Brome, and a better understanding of what contributes, affects and moulds Public History itself.

The core goal of the project was to transcribe and digitise Kresen Kernow’s physical documents. Through this, we learnt much about the key role that digitisation plays in preserving history. Digitalisation allows for sources to survive tests of time because digital documents are not affected by decomposition or fading and do not require the same scale of physical infrastructure for preservation. Even though digital documents do not give the same feeling of ‘connecting with the past’ that original sources do, by preserving their content, accuracy as well as reliability of historical memory can be ensured. The digitalisation of physical sources also increases their accessibility; in a society which relies more heavily upon the internet, having these documents present online allows for wider audience engagement to utilise Kresen Kernow’s collections. What is particularly admirable is that there is no paywall to limit access to their information so anyone can access Cornish history.

However, we soon identified a limitation to the practice of digitalisation in the amount of information that was being produced and the inability to select or edit this in fear of losing a record that could be of significance. We later discerned that the issue of profusion may eventually arise in regard to capacity but, as digitised documents require less upkeep than physical sources, they provide a less costly option for a field already struggling for funding. Profusion, even though it can become a contention when capacity is full, is a key way of identifying the diversity of documents as well as their individual importance which is not always evident on first appearance. Either for genealogical research, investigating Cornwallis as a military figure or identifying narratives that impacted eighteenth century India, digitalisation has shown us a progression within Public History bodies which is vital for the preservation of our past.

An element of the project which lingered throughout was Charles Cornwallis as an agent of colonialism. Cornwallis had been employed as Governor General of India and worked within the East India Trading Company, who at that time were assuming control over India and subjugating Indian resistance forces. Cornwallis led the campaign against Tipu Sultan, an accomplished Indian general, in the Third Anglo-Mysore War and described the Sultan to his son as a “restless and ambitious Tyrant”. Colonialism’s effects are tangible within global society today, recently seen in Britain when protestors in Bristol tore down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston. As historians, we believe that digitising Cornwallis’ personal letters can be of value to historical discourse for they provide rare insight into the perspective of one of Britain’s most prolific agents of colonialism. However, engaging with such sensitive material required us to remain impartial within our research and transcriptions, which, despite some concerns, will ultimately aid us in our understanding and study of history.

Throughout the process we developed transferrable skills which will aid us in both historical studies and the world beyond. Alongside skills in digitisation, the project compelled us to utilise research techniques with which we were either unfamiliar or unskilled. For example, we used family trees to develop our understanding of the Cornwallis’ family and its influence within British society, which was a first for us. The most important, and transferrable, skill the project taught us was how to collaborate remotely on projects by using the internet and technology. As the project took place during the COVID-19 pandemic we were unable to meet our sponsor or interact with the documents first hand, yet through the use of online meetings and scans of Cornwallis’ letters we were able to complete the project without much difficulty. In a world that is increasingly dependent upon the online sphere it was reassuring that practising history can survive and flourish digitally.

History, not just with a public oriented focus, is in an extremely exciting position to expand into digital spaces. This project, thanks to Kresen Kernow and the University of Exeter, has helped us develop our skills as historians in a first-hand manner. For those of you with an interest in Cornish history, we greatly recommend exploring the archives.

By Alice Lentern and Nick Watts

In the age of virtual heritage, do museums still need objects?

As the coronavirus crisis wages on in the UK and around the world, museums, like many organisations, have found themselves forced to navigate this new reality. In particular, how to operate when physicality – interacting with original objects – remains at the heart of their endeavours. During the nationwide lockdown period especially, we witnessed how almost overnight, the material foundations of heritage were temporarily supplanted by online and virtual alternatives.

The changes in access brought on by the pandemic has only reignited tensions surrounding a shift away from objects within museums – a topic of current contention within heritage studies. Fears centre around the notion that museums are becoming more about the information they can provide, rather than their objects on display. With an increasing focus on digitisation, these anxieties have only inflated further – and to surprisingly existential proportions.

Indeed, current scholarship has perpetuated a narrative in which the “virtual” represents a threat to traditional heritage principles. In part fuelled by a desire to defend the object, detractorspropagate an almost dystopian-like future. A vision in which the digital “terrorist” will gradually and surreptitiously tear down the museum as a sanctuary for the authentic, the real and true. In this portrayal, virtual applications are reduced to nothing more than data-driven information dumps lacking the cultural essence of the objects they claim to emulate.

For my UG History Dissertation this research, this premise, elevated by the current climate, provided ample opportunity to explore this fractured relationship between the object and the virtual. The emergence of “virtual heritage” – a new field which emphasises the emotive, multi-sensory application of the digital, such as virtual reality –disrupts the leading narrative of hostility. Through this lens, the study set out to uncover a more comprehensive appraisal of the use of virtual heritage tools within museums.

Explorations of four virtual heritage experiences showed their potential to restore access to lost and inaccessible places. The wAVE Project’s plans to digitally restore an old harbour near St Agnes Museum, for example, holds purpose in injecting new life into what is “now no more than rubble on St Agnes beach.” The possibilities for immersion and interactivity within virtual spaces also offer unique opportunities to foster greater levels of engagement among visitors, not to mention affording them more agency and control as they participate more directly with these experiences.

Although, as a deeper dive into these experiences revealed, these prospects are not without their own caveats. The ambitions to extend cultural access can create more barriers to entry related to space; cost; malfunctions and technical proficiency. Meanwhile, the drive to promote visitor participation through the virtual realm also presents ethical considerations – such as whether it is appropriate to ask users to assume an active role in difficult histories – which has led to a reluctance to explore these interactive possibilities in practice.

Each of these factors, shadowed by underlying sacrifices, paint a complex picture for virtual heritage – certainly more so than its current portrayal as a threat. When the object is brought back into the conversation, this only provides further complications. Studies showing that digital engagement actually increases demand to access physical objects seem to dispel the myth of the virtual poised to usurp the real; clearly there is potential for both forms to unite in their shared endeavours.

Yet, among materialists, the continued demonisation of the digital dismisses any reasonable chances of this union at present. Some remain so caught up in guarding the object that they fail to see the double standards of their fears. For instance, many are quick to question the digital on grounds of authenticity but overlook how museum objects go through their own process of recontextualisation in their new role when placed on display.

Evidence of clouded judgments such as here suggests the more immediate implications of virtual heritage. It has further unearthed the deeply rooted materialist predilections present within museums. These principles remain embedded within the largely unproductive disputes over the status of the artefact and, alongside this, they can also contribute to an exclusionary culture of practice.

As a consequence, new or unconventional modes of visitor engagement, such as virtual heritage, seem to be roped into these debates when really, in a more practical view, their proponents would prefer to focus their energies elsewhere. Namely on establishing their field and honing their attempts to enrich museum activities. Indulging in such arguments ultimately detracts from finding out what virtual heritage can offer in its own right. In this new age, during a period of new mindsets and approaches in all walks of life, perhaps now the digital will get its chance.

By Matt Solomons

This post was adapted from Matt’s recently submitted undergraduate dissertation entitled “Do museums still need objects in the age of virtual heritage?”. Access to the full text is available here.

A virtual reality “pod” as part of a Tutankhamun exhibition last year. Could this image soon become the norm?


What is it like to be a freelancer in the Heritage sector? In conversation with Anna Bryant

The heritage sector is incredibly dynamic. Throughout the South West, heritage organisations and academic institutions are continually developing research and projects to maintain, preserve and uncover local and national heritage.

Freelancer and museum professional Anna Bryant manages, develops, and delivers heritage projects with a goal of helping heritage bodies reach and engage with new and existing audiences more effectively. This involves working with partnerships, audiences, and storytelling for museums, heritage sites and sector support organisations in the South West and nationally. With over 20 years of experience in the sector, Anna tells us about her experience as a freelancer and the opportunities that arise from freelance working.

After undertaking a BA in History and an MA in Museum Studies from the University of Leicester, Anna began her career in local history in London before moving to Wales to set up the Museum of Cardiff. Since then, she has run a partnership of all museums in Bath and, from 2016 to 2018, was Chair of the South West Fed (SWFed). She is an Associate of the Museums Association.

Anna describes her role as a museums’ consultant as running your own business: “not only do you need to keep up to date with current trends and networking, but also pitching for work — writing proposals as well as budgeting, marketing, and doing your tax return!”

An average work day for Anna currently involves sitting at her desk: “a day might involve planning a project out, preparing certain elements such as surveys and having a Zoom meeting to discuss an element of the work or writing a report.” However, as things are opening up, Anna will soon be able to return to museum site visits, in order to get to know a project better, meet people and support the research.

For Anna, the main benefits of freelance work are that the work is varied and that you’re in control of your schedule: “you choose when you work and what hours or days. I have school children at home so choose not to work in the summer holidays, for example. It also can be fun to see a project through to completion and have the satisfaction of wrapping it up.”

However, there are some challenges to this format of working. Anna tells us that “you have to be able to put yourself ‘out there’ and accept rejection as well as success! Working by yourself can be a challenge in terms of bouncing ideas around or time management, but that can be mitigated by working with project teams at the museums or organisations or having good freelancer networks to discuss challenges with.”

Anna says that she has always enjoyed working in the sector because it provides a very varied working life: “I enjoy its breadth from creativity to research, and particularly the satisfaction of working with or for audiences and engaging them with the stories museums can tell, which is opening up further all the time.” Anna has worked in partnership across all of her museum roles — both across museums, but also with community partners. She says that: “It’s a fantastic way to work, bringing new opportunities to all partners involved and opening up new ways of collaborating to enable a better visitor experience. It’s not always easy, though, and requires time and patience to ensure that all parties get what they need from the process.”

Anna has worked as a University of Exeter consultant, doing research into ticketing and membership at the Bishop’s Palace in Wells. She particularly enjoyed doing a focus group with members because it was: “a great way to challenge preconceptions about what research might throw up!”

To find out more about working in museum freelance, see:













Re-opening Heritage: Bill Douglas Cinema Museum Curator Phil Wickham tells us about the museum ahead of its reopening on 17th of May 2021

The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum (BDCM) is home to one of the largest collections of material on the moving image in Britain. Both an accredited public museum and academic research facility, it has a collection of over 85,000 items. The museum documents the development of optical entertainment from shadow-puppets and 17th century books on projection, to the most recent Hollywood blockbusters, including artefacts such as Magic Lanterns, rare books, prints, and an extensive variety of publicity materials.

The museum commemorates British filmmaker Bill Douglas (1934-1991), whose work includes the Bill Douglas Trilogy (1972-78) and Comrades (1987). Bill Douglas, together with his friend Peter Jewell, was also a collector and after Bill’s death Peter donated their amazing holdings on the moving image to the University to found the museum, which opened to the public in 1997. The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum is a unique resource, Phil Wickham tell us: “Nothing else in the UK has the breadth and depth of our collections, which range from the seventeenth century to the present day or is as accessible. Instead of holding films themselves we focus on the experience of seeing them or engaging with the devices that preceded them. Together then the artefacts that make up the collection form a people’s history of the moving image that demonstrates how moving images have changed the way we see the world around us.”

The museum’s artefacts include programmes, prints, postcards, toys, books or devices, and are all accessible to both researchers and the public, as a source of engaging with this history. The museum also holds archives by independent British filmmakers in addition to Bill Douglas, including Don Boyd and producers Gavrik Losey and James Mackay. The collections continue to grow and the museum acquires material from many members of the public, who know their donations can be enjoyed and explored by all.

Phil says that “the collections are used extensively for research by academics at the University of Exeter and form the basis for a number of funded projects. Over the past couple of years, the museum has been involved in research topics as diverse as Vivien Leigh, Theatre and visual culture in the nineteenth century and the effect of Western gay films on LGBT communities in China.”

The BDCM supplies materials from its collections to over 100 classes a year at the University across a wide range of disciplines; including History, English and Sociology, as well as being central to the Film Studies programme. Alongside Professor Linda Williams, the Head of Film, Phil teaches a module in which students curate an exhibition as part of their assessment. He states that this “teaches them new skills in curation and teamwork – the collection enables innovative learning of many kinds.”

The collections are particularly useful for student dissertations, in order to undertake original research. Phil stresses, however, that the museum is a research resource for the whole of the academy and not just Exeter: “The stipend scheme has meant that scholars from all over the world have been able to visit and explore the collections. You can read Blogs written about their experiences at:”

Discussing how the museum has adapted during the Covid-19 pandemic, Phil told us that rules have meant that the Museum has been closed to the public for much of the year: “We were open for brief periods in the autumn but much of the usual teaching has not been able to take place on campus. We have still been as busy as ever however, especially in scanning materials to create digital resources from the collection for teaching. This allows students to still utilise our collections and apply them to what they are learning.”

The BDCM hopes to reopen in May when restrictions ease. Phil told us that the team “are very excited to welcome visitors back to enjoy our galleries and for us to share our physical collections. While we have all learnt the importance of the virtual over this period, it has also made clear how fundamental the pleasures of going out to places and seeing objects from the past are to us. It will also be great to welcome back the student volunteers that have been such a big part of the museum’s success in recent years.”


To donate to the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum please see:, and follow @bdcmuseum on Instagram and Twitter for updates on its reopening.

Uncovering the Northcott Theatre Archive: Q&A with Heritage Project Manager Sophie McCormack about the upcoming ‘The Impact of Women’ Event on the 5th of May 2021.

On the 5th May at 18:00, Exeter Northcott Theatre will be hosting their ‘The Impact of Women’ event that will explore the stories found in the theatre’s archive collection. The project, which began last Spring was led alongside a team of interns from the University of Exeter who delved into the Northcott’s archive. The event panel will look at the stories that have been uncovered and discuss how the knowledge collected can be used to shape the future culture of Exeter and the South West.

Can you tell me a bit about the history of the Northcott Theatre?

The Northcott opened in 1967 as the first of several important theatres that were built on University campuses in the UK. From the very beginning it was hailed as a ‘theatre for the people of Devon’ and it quickly established itself as a theatre which intended to push boundaries, champion new writing and develop talented creatives. Over the years its many artistic directors have taken the theatre’s identity and mission in different directions – taking on the challenge of what it means to be ‘a theatre for everyone’ and interpreting this in a variety of ways. It has become well known over the years as a training ground for high profile actors such as Dame Diana Rigg, Imelda Staunton, Robert Lindsay, John Nettles and Bon Hoskins, as well as a training ground for theatre technicians and crew. Its annual Christmas Pantomime and summertime Shakespeare in the Gardens are fondly remembered locally and are documented in detail in the archive. The theatre has also lead work with young people through its Young Company, developing creative and artistic skills over several generations.

Has the archival work that has been conducted as part of this project altered or added to that history?

Our work with the collection has enabled us to explore the specific ways that the theatre reinvented itself over the years – and while this was previously looked at as a problem (the theatre having an identity crisis and never quite living up to the ‘theatre for everyone’ mission) we have found that in hindsight this flexibility and ability to change is behind its longevity and ability to withstand and survive some difficult periods in history.

The particular role of regional theatre and how it reflects, engages with and presents work to its community — drawing on local stories and talent in this process — is also gaining new relevance as the current team at the theatre looks to massively change the way it works with and supports its local communities.

How important were the student interns in carrying out this work?

The interns have been central to the archive research. They have identified key themes and trends in the archive and then looked into the detailed records and materials in the collection to uncover the stories behind them. The project focus has been led by them in a very real way: the content relating to theatre productions, projects, actors and theatre staff we are sharing publicly have all been selected and interpreted by our teams of interns over the past year. They have also made the selections of the material we have had digitised by the Digital Humanities department at the University.

Why did you choose Natalie McGrath, Sandhya Dave and Rachel Vowles as your speakers for this event?

Natalie is a real leader in the arts and heritage sector and highly respected locally as the co-founder of Dreadnought South West – an organisation that shares the hidden histories of women and their activism. Natalie is also a wonderful writer and experienced in working with regional theatres, including the Northcott.

Sandhya is a real changemaker in Exeter’s culture through her championing of diverse voices and communities and through her leadership of anti-racist work. Sandhya has worked with the Northcott previously to support better and more meaningful engagement with people with from diverse heritages and works tirelessly to support people locally to be resilient.

Rachel is an education and community engagement expert and well-remembered for her work at the Northcott during 1999-2009 — leading work with hundreds of local young people and developing spectacular large-scale community productions. Rachel is an excellent theatre practitioner with loads of knowledge about the local arts sector and the people that make it work.

What do you hope the event will achieve?

I hope that people will begin to see the archive as a fluid, dynamic resource rather than a dusty collection of boxes. It’s important that history and heritage are opened up to be interpreted by as many people as possible, so we get a fuller picture of the legacies we have been left with today. I hope that by using the archive as inspiration, the panel and event audience will see how history can be used to change and shape what comes next.

Tickets for the event are free and can be purchased via:

The event is part of a wider project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

To learn more about the Exeter Northcott Theatre, see: and follow @ExeterNorthcott on Twitter for updates pertaining to the event.


Q&A with Exeter Arts and Culture Co-ordinator, Naome Glanville, who tells us about the University’s art collection, current projects and her work.

Naome Glanville is an Arts and Culture Co-ordinator at the University of Exeter. As part of the Arts and Culture team, she looks after the university’s fine art collection and supports arts and culture projects and activities. Naome also writes articles for the Arts and Culture website, uses the fine art collection to support art history study and advises staff and students in planning exhibitions. 

To begin, can you elaborate on the importance of art commissions for the University?

The main aim of the University’s Arts and Culture strategy is to activate creativity, which involves supporting and the sharing of creativity both within and outside the University. We invite commissioned artists to make connections with research and researchers to inform their work and develop their practices, as well as invite researchers and academics to discover new perspectives to their work through interactions with creative practitioners. This potential for cross-fertilisation of ideas can enrich learning and impact for both parties.

The University of Exeter is an institute that values the arts, and the outputs of our arts commissions have been exciting and thought-provoking. They have ranged from exhibitions, soundscapes, movement with virtual reality headsets, to poetry and films. The commissions have supported the artistic community and increased opportunities for networking and learning.

Can you give an overview of the University’s Fine Art collection?

The University’s Fine Art collection consists of around two thousand items, including sculptures, paintings and prints. It includes works by Barbara Hepworth, Terry Frost, Bridget Riley, Newlyn artist Harold Harvey and a large number of 19thcentury engravings of JMW Turner works. Working with the collection means not only acquiring artworks but also caring for them. We have just developed a new policy for the development of the collection, so that we manage the collection in a more consistent, transparent and strategic way.

What is on display on campus and where can the collection be accessed online?

You may be aware of our sculpture walk on the Streatham Campus.

Figure, 1964 by Barbara Hepworth.

Credit: Barbara Hepworth ©Bowness, Photo: Courtesy University of Exeter ©John Melville

Although currently closed to the public, we look forward to a time when it will be safe for the public to tour the sculpture walk once again.  On our website you can see images of all the sculptures in the walk, read about the works and download a map showing where the sculptures are. Many of the sculptures date from the 1960s and 1970s and complement the architecture of the University buildings. Each month we are shining a spotlight on one of our artworks from the collection on the Arts and Culture website, so look out for that.

Can you tell me about Arts and Culture’s current art commissions?

The current arts commission is an 18-month partnership project with University partner the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM), called Here’s to Thee. The project seeks to uncover the complex ecology and cultures that surround the art of cider making. This fascinating project is being led by internationally renowned artist Simon Pope, who is collaborating with a team of creative practitioners and also academics at the University of Exeter. The project includes the display at RAMM of a wonderful ‘Wassail bowl’ made of local clay by ceramicist Abigail North. You can see more about Here’s to Thee and check out Simon’s video diaries here.

The In Company of Insects project looked really interesting, can you tell me about it?

In the Company of Insects was an 18-month project with award-winning poet Fiona Benson. Alongside sound artist Mair Bosworth, Benson recorded insect sounds and interviewed entomologists from the University of Exeter and beyond, who were able to shed light on the curious lifecycles and habits of insects. These were all drawn together with poems specially written by Fiona, to make a set of amazing, immersive soundscapes, that you can listen to on the Arts and Culture website. The project then reached out for more insect-related poetry through workshops. Poems composed by members of the public, school children and other poets were recorded and can be heard on the Arts and Culture website.

How have art commissions and projects been implicated by the pandemic?

The pandemic has of course affected the way our work has had to be conducted. Very soon after the first lockdown Arts and Culture initiated a series of 10 micro-commissions in partnership with other city arts organisations, entitled Hyperlocal which invited artists from Devon and Cornwall to create a digital artwork exploring the hyperlocal of their immediate domestic environments. After a public-call out, the 10 selected artists created very different responses to the confined world they found themselves in, including poems, illustrations, soundscapes and films. I am sure that they will be fascinating to revisit in years to come, as a record of life in lockdown.

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