My Christmas Trip to Europe

Ting-Shan Lin, a current MA Translation student from Taiwan, talks about her experience travelling across Europe over the Christmas holiday.

This was my very first backpacking experience to Europe in my life, needless to say how excited I was, especially as the trip was during the Christmas holiday. We went to Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Salzburg and Munich. Every place has its own beauty and attractive part, but there was one thing you could never miss during this season– the Christmas market. Basically we came across at least one Christmas market every day in each different city, even without planning.

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Gendarmenmarkt, a German Christmas Market

Germany has the oldest Christmas market tradition in the world, so I was really excited about every visit and enjoying the Christmas vibes there. Of course, we didn’t miss the hot mulled wine, which was really comforting and warming especially after a long walk in such cold weather. But what made me crazy about the Christmas market was the various mugs that we could keep if we really fancied the design. It was quite an adventure for mug hunting. Every time we wandered around a Christmas market, I couldn’t help but check the mug that they served their wine in.

Enjoying a tipple at Gendarmenmarkt

Enjoying a tipple at Gendarmenmarkt

This was the very first mug I got in a Christmas market, called ‘Gendarmenmarkt’ in German, which is really famous for its white roof stalls. Actually, it was the only one that we had to pay an entrance fee (¢1) for, but I really enjoyed the atmosphere there. There was a stage area where crowds gathered for some performances and there was a big indoor market selling a variety of goods from Christmas cards to decorating ornaments.

My favourite Christmas market mug

My favourite Christmas market mug

This shoe-shaped yellow mug is my favourite collection from Vienna’s Christmas market. I still remembered that morning we saw so many people walking around holding it when we were admiring the grand buildings around Hofburg. We started to check every stall for the mug and forgot why we were there initially. Luckily we found it at last, and yes, I tried a different drink which was lovely and the whipped cream not only made it taste better, but also made the mug look even cuter.

Places we visited

Germany:

Berlin – a collision of modern and history

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Reichstag Building, Berlin

Berlin is an interesting city in my opinion. At the first glance, the city has an array of grand modern buildings, and streets are tidy and organised. A special building that we visited during our stay was the Reichstag building. It’s designed as a green building utilising renewable energy technology due to a fire incident in 1933. We booked a free tour, including a brief introduction about the building and an audio-guided tour to the top of the arch. I was amazed by the audio guide because when we started to walk into the circular pathway leading to the top of the arch, the audio guide just spoke automatically and introduced what we could see at the spot we were. We didn’t have to bother working out which button to press or which channel to choose. During this tour, I not only enjoyed the scenery but also learned more about the city.

The Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall

Compared to the tidiness of the western part of Berlin, the east had a totally different atmosphere and a street scene with countless graffiti. Walking along the ruins of the Berlin Wall, it gave me an illusion of travelling back in time, as if the West and the East were still controlled by two different parties. Some of the graffiti along the wall depicted the historical incident, others may convey the atmosphere of uncertainty during the split period. It’s a great place for tourists who want to have a taste of history and a different vibe away from modern Berlin.

After a four-day stay in Berlin, I found it’s a city combining modern elements, but still preserving its historical characteristic of the Second World War. I love the advanced part of the city as well as the slightly messy side.

Munich

It was really close to Christmas when we travelled back to Munich, Germany. Actually, we planned to go to a world famous Christmas market in Nuremberg during our stay in Munich. However, we forgot to book train tickets and the last minute deal was literally robbery! Moreover, we were all exhausted at this point- the twelfth day of our journey- so we decided to go easy with the last four days.

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New Town Hall, Marienplatz, Munich

We visited our last Christmas Market in front of the old city hall on the 24th December. I found the day of Christmas Eve was quite similar to Chinese New Year’s Eve. Most of the stores were closed by around three in the afternoon to prepare for the night with family. Instead of a Christmas feast in a restaurant, we had a Chinese style dinner to celebrate the night for reunion. We bought some ingredients from a Chinese market for hot pot, which is a tradition in my family for Chinese New Year’s Eve, to celebrate this special Christmas Eve in Munich. After so much gourmet food in local restaurants, this was a special meal to me during the trip. I think I’ll always remember this special Christmas Eve, sharing hot pot with friends in a foreign city.

Our Christmas Eve meal preparation

Our Christmas Eve meal preparation

After the comforting meal, we joined a Mass in a local church, which was recommended by a lovely receptionist at our hotel. I am not religious but I was quite interested in the ritual held in church on Christmas Eve. When we arrived in the church, the event had already started. I was a bit surprised by the number of people participating and the chorus, with the Organ accompaniment, echoing around the grand church was astonishing. It was a peaceful moment and I even closed my eyes and started to remember my year of 2016. It was a time for appreciation and reflection.

Christmas Eve Mass

Christmas Eve Mass

Czech Republic:

Prague

Out of all the cities I visited during this trip, Prague is my favourite one, although we didn’t have a good impression at first. The time we arrived at Prague was quite late at night. The first problem we encountered was that we didn’t have the proper currency we needed and secondly I was totally unfamiliar with the language they use (I learned German for two terms during undergraduate studies: although I am only at basic level, I can read and listen to some key words). It was quite a messy night, especially when we arrived at our hotel around 10 pm. It seemed like a private accommodation and we couldn’t find how to get in there. After confirming the address with a coffee shop nearby and getting inside the building, we also found the e-mail the house owner sent us, which included the room number and password of our room. Actually, it was our mistake for not paying attention to the detail of the check-in time. It was a novel experience that we didn’t even have to check in to get into a room. Although it seemed quite scary from the appearance of the building (built during the middle ages with some superstitious stories), it was a cosy apartment with a lovely attic. Much to our surprise, it turned out to be our favourite accommodation and we really felt at home there.

Prague

Prague

Compared to other cities, Prague has a lower commodity price and cheaper fees for transportation. It was a great tourist spot to explore on foot. We visited the area of Prague castle and Charles bridge, which was really magnificent. But the most memorable spot during my stay in Prague was the viewing platform at the top of the Astronomical Clock, which was breathtaking. I still remember it was a beautiful day with brilliant weather, but it was also quite windy and the air was still chilly. Although it was freezing and I could hardly feel my fingers, I still had the temptation to take pictures. It was a totally different angle but a marvellous spot to see the beautiful city underneath, which was like a vivid showcase of various building models with orange roofs shining under the sun.

The colourful roofs of Prague

The colourful roofs of Prague

Austria:

Salzburg – King’s Lake

If the tour to other cities was an exploration of grand architectures, the trip to Salzburg was an adventure of the magnificent natural environment. We went to King’s Lake (Königssee), which is near the border of Austria but located in Germany. As the bus travelled through the mountainous area, a change of scenery caught our attention. Not only the site of the remote mountain’s tip covered in snow, but also the trees and extensive fields along the road. Since we come from a tropical area, it was not every day scenery for us. Needless to say, it was far colder than the places we’ve been for this trip so far. The white snow was shining under the sun, bright and spotless.

Driving through Salzburg

Driving through Salzburg

After a long ride, we finally got to our destination- King’s lake. It was quite misty. Although we couldn’t see anything during our cruise around the lake due to the fog, the view was still spectacular. It was windless and the lake seemed so calm and sparkly. The tour guide also played his trumpet in the middle of the lake to show us the clear echo through the mountains. In the end, he joked that he also had to pay for his cousin who played the melody back in the mountain. It was an enjoyable cruise and I gave a double tip.

King's Lake, Salzburg

King’s Lake, Salzburg

Wandering around Salzburg

It was the 12th day of my trip to Europe. It was also the last day in Salzburg. After nearly two week’s trip with friends, I decided to leave a day for myself. Actually, I had no plan at all, but I was so excited that I could explore the city on my own. Walking along the street from my hotel to the city centre, trees were covered in snow and shining under the sun. It was a bright day but the air was still freezing.

Without a map, I just roamed around the streets. Then, a market popped up after I turned into a busy street. I was surprised and excited because I love exploring local markets wherever I go. There were many stalls and food trucks with a variety of food and daily commodities. I was like a child who went into a candy shop where everything was so novel and attractive. I can’t help roaming around and trying to find out what they were selling. I tasted some food samples like cheeses and sausages. It was like an adventure, even though it might be just daily life for the local people. After 30 mins wandering, I stopped by a food truck which was selling fried chicken. When I was ordering, the salesman asked where I came from. I said Taiwan, and to my surprise, he replied ‘oh, Formosa.’ It was really delightful to find out people from a foreign country know my hometown. The conversation was short, but it really made my day. As I stood around a table and had my meal like the other locals, it gave me the illusion that I was a part of them. It was one of my most memorable mornings of the whole trip.

Being a Part of It: the Benefits of Being on a Committee

Do you like being part of your academic community? Do you feel that talking to people in your field is inspiring? Maybe you should be on a Committee…

Personally I find it really exciting when I get a chance to speak to people who really understand my subject. The best conversations are the ones where I get to talk about the specific issues at play in my wider field of performance and my narrower field of circus – the chance to talk about the specific issues at play is really exciting because of the connections it inspires and the feeling of being understood.

So, last year when the chance to join the Society for Theatre Research’s New Researcher’s Network  came up, it seemed a good opportunity. I had the chance to meet and work with like-minded people with the aim of trying to think about some of the ways we could make being a PGR or ECR in the field of performance easier.

For me it also represented something slightly different: an opportunity to bring my old professional life and my newer academic life into conversation. Previously I had been a marketer who ran events and managed communications, including social media. This set of skills was something that the NRN needed, so it felt like a good way to contribute something useful.

Since I joined the NRN I’ve worked with the other person responsible for social media and publicity to set up our own blog  focused on providing useful reflections on personal experiences of research eg the ‘I-wish-I’d-known-this-when-I-started’ or descriptions of moments that changed people’s perspectives on their research. I’ve also started to organise a symposium that has given me the chance to draw on personal connections for mutual benefit, eg publicising an archive I love and drawing on the expertise of some of my personal connections. There is also something interesting in observing how these types of organisation work.

I think this is probably the key to deciding if you want to be part of a committee like the NRN. You need to be prepared to give something as well as to work out what is in it for you. For me a lot of the experience I have had has been in a range of industries such as corporate events, civil engineering/construction services (sexy!) and the charity sector. Being a part of a field-specific committee has allowed me to use those skills and make them more relevant to the academic context I am now working in, whereas for you it might be gaining them for the first time. It has also widened my network to include some great people who I am now working with who I might not have met because are research doesn’t overlap – circus meets live-streaming/Shakespeare/early modern studies anyone?

You probably can identify something else hovering underneath all of this description. I think we have to be honest that part of what being on a committee involves is a wish to make your CV more desirable. Yes, that is definitely true, but you will only get the most out of it if you are also invested in giving something back. I’d definitely recommend doing it because you’ll meet some great people and have some inspiring conversations along the way.


Author’s Bio

Kate Holmes is based in the Drama department and is in the third year of a PhD on female aerial performers of the 1920s and early 1930s. For more information on Kate’s research please see her eprofile .

This Blog has been posted with the permission of the author.

 

Luke Hagan, Exeter alumnus reflects on his film debut

Exeter alumnus Luke Hagan studied for an undergraduate degree at the University of Exeter in History and Archaeology (2007) before completing a Masters degree in Film Studies (2008). Luke then went on to work as a freelance filmmaker. All in the Valley is Luke’s first feature film, in which he acted as writer, director, and editor.

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Photograph courtesy of Luke Hagan.

The film was shot between September and December 2012, along with several day’s reshoots and pickups in the summer of 2013. Luke and his team hope that All in the Valley will facilitate their move onto other projects; “All in the Valley was self-funded and the idea from the beginning was to make the best film we could with relatively little money, which we could then show to people and say “imagine what we could achieve with funding.”

Set in Cornwall in 1855, All in the Valley follows Joseph Ballam, a Crimean war veteran who returns home with no money, no job and no prospects. He meets Mr. Lincoln, a wealthy mine owner, who offers him the chance to emigrate to the colony of Van Dieman’s Land. However, in exchange for a new life, Ballam must explore deep into the Cornish landscape in order to hunt down the Tallack brothers, a dangerous gang of thieves, and return the money they have stolen from Lincoln’s company. All in the Valley is an exciting new take on the classic western genre. The film takes the common western themes of migration, wilderness and lawlessness and transports them to Victorian Cornwall – a frontier just as treacherous and wild as the old west.

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Photograph courtesy of Luke Hagan.

Luke was recognised for his work last year, receiving the Best Feature Film accolade at the Cornwall Film Festival. Luke, who is familiar with the Cornish landscape, says that All in the Valley was inspired by its setting; “When we were looking for ideas for a film it dawned on me that we had access to this beautiful and dramatic backdrop.”

He explained that his experiences studying at the University came into use preparing for the film, adding: “Once we had figured that out I called back on my days studying History at Exeter and started doing some research into the history of the Cornish moors, the mining industry and the large scale emigration that took place in the region. The parallels between what I learnt and the traditional narratives of the American western soon became apparent and the rest of the film fell into place.”

Speaking about his experience and future work, Luke said: “We have several ideas that we’re working on at the moment, including other feature films and web based projects. I think our next step will be a short film. Making All in the Valley was a fantastic experience but feature films take a long time to complete so we’d like to do something we can see finished on shorter timescale. We’re hoping to start work on our new project in 2015, and we’ll see where things go from there.”


 

For more information about Luke’s film All in the Valley, please visit his website.

MA International Film Business – Term One

Last term the College of Humanities welcomed its first student cohort on the inaugural MA International Film Business programme at the University of Exeter.

JimW-Mike Leigh 11Chairman of the London Film School (LFS) and multi-award-winning director Mike Leigh with Deputy Vice Chancellor (Education) Professor Nick Kaye. Photo by Jim Wileman.

In an exciting partnership with the London Film School, MA International Film Business students have had the opportunity to explore the filmmaking industry both here in the south-west and the capital, where the students have been studying since January. Co-directed by Angus Finney of the London Film School and Professor Will Higbee at the University of Exeter, the programme provides students with an understanding of the film industry and its practices, key business tools, and an insight into world cinema and the role of film culture.

During their first term, MA International Film Business students were taught by film specialists from the College of Humanities and the Exeter Business School. A number of notable industry experts came to speak to the students. These included film director and producer Don Boyd, British independent producer James MacKay, US/UK film producer Gavrik Losey and Ken Dearsley, Independent Consultant and Partner of the Intellectual Property and Technology group IPT.

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US/UK film producer Gavrik Losey came in last term to speak to students. Photo by Theo Moye

Another industry speaker to visit the University was local filmmaker and pop-up cinema entrepreneur David Salas. David worked with the students to curate their own pop-up cinema event, asking them to prepare and present a series of short films for the general public in the Bill Douglas Museum at the University of Exeter. The six groups of students put on a varied and exciting programme of films, each spanning different genres, styles and languages.

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During the course of this year, we hope to let you know the progress of these students as they embark on their next term of study at the London Film School.

The students are due to attend the Berlinale festival, taking place from the 5 – 15 February. If you wish to follow the festival online via Twitter, search for the following hashtags #MAIFB, #Berlinale and #BerlinaleMoments

For more information about the MA International Film Business programme, please visit the College of Humanities website.

“There is no escape.” Horace Walpole and the terrifying rise of the Gothic

Originally posted on the OUPblog, from Oxford University Press

Professor Nick Groom

This year is the 250th anniversary of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, first published on Christmas Eve 1764 as a seasonal ghost story. The Castle of Otranto is often dubbed the “first Gothic novel” due to Walpole describing it as a “Gothic story,” but for him the Gothic meant very different things from what it might do today. While the Gothic was certainly associated with the supernatural, it was predominantly a theory of English progress rooted in Anglo-Saxon and medieval history — effectively the cultural wing of parliamentarian politics and Protestant theology. The genre of the “Gothic novel,” with all its dire associations of uncanny horror, would not come into being for at least another century. Instead, the writing that followed in the wake of Otranto was known as the German School, the ‘Terrorist System of Writing’, or even hobgobliana.

Reading Otranto today, however, it is almost impossible to forget what 250 years of Gothickry have bequeathed to our culture in literature, architecture, film, music, and fashion: everything from the great Gothic Revival design of the Palace of Westminster to none-more-black clothes for sale on Camden Town High Street and the eerie music of Nick Cave, Jordan Reyne, and Fields of the Nephilim.

And the cinema has been instrumental in spreading this unholy word. Despite being rooted in the history of the barbarian tribes who sacked Rome and the thousand-year epoch of the Dark Ages, the Gothic was also a state-of-the-art movement. Technology drove the Gothic dream, enabling, for instance, the towering spires and colossal naves of medieval cathedrals, or enlisting in nineteenth-century art and literature the latest scientific developments in anatomy and galvanism (Frankenstein), the circulation of the blood and infection (The Vampyre), or drug use and psychology (Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde).

The moving image on the cinema screen therefore had an immediate and compelling appeal. The very experience of cinema was phantasmagoric — kaleidoscopic images projected in a darkened room, accompanied by often wild, expressionist music. The hallucinatory visions of Henry Fuseli and Gustave Doré arose and, like revenants, came to life.

The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli, 1781. Public Domain via Wikiart

The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli, 1781. Public Domain via Wikiart

Camera tricks, special effects, fantastical scenery, and monstrous figures combined in a new visual style, most notably in Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) and F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu: A Symphony of Terror (1922). Murnau’s Nosferatu, the first vampire film, fed parasitically on Bram Stoker’s Dracula; it was rumored that Max Schreck, who played the nightmarish Count Orlok, was indeed a vampire himself. The horror film had arrived.

Cabinet of Dr Caligari Lobby Card (1920). Goldwyn Distributing Company. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Cabinet of Dr Caligari Lobby Card (1920). Goldwyn Distributing Company. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Mid-century Hollywood movie stars such as Bela Lugosi, who first played Dracula in 1931, and Boris Karloff, who played Frankenstein’s monster in the same year, made these roles iconic. Lugosi played Dracula as a baleful East European, deliberately melodramatic; Karloff was menacing in a different way: mute, brutal, and alien. Both embodied the threat of the “other”: communist Russia, as conjured up by the cinema. Frankenstein’s monster is animated by the new cinematic energy of electricity and light, while in Dracula the Count’s life and death are endlessly replayed on the screen in an immortal and diabolical loop.

It was in Britain, however, that horror films really took the cinema-going public by the throat. Britain was made for the Gothic cinema: British film-makers such as Hammer House of Horror could draw on the nation’s rich literary heritage, its crumbling ecclesiastical remains and ruins, the dark and stormy weather, and its own homegrown movie stars such as Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Lee in particular radiated a feral sexuality, enabling Hammer Horror to mix a heady cocktail of sex and violence on the screen. It was irresistible.

The slasher movies that have dominated international cinema since Hammer through franchises such as Hellraiser and Saw are more sensationalist melodrama than Gothic, but Gothic film does thrive and continues to create profound unease in audiences: The Exorcist, the Alien films, Blade Runner, The Blair Witch Project, and more overtly literary pictures such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula are all contemporary classics — as is Buffy the Vampire Slayer on TV.

And despite the hi-tech nature of film-making, the profound shift in the meaning of Gothic, and the gulf of 250 years, the pulse of The Castle of Otranto still beats in these films. The action of Otranto takes place predominantly in the dark in a suffocatingly claustrophobic castle and in secret underground passages. Inexplicable events plague the plot, and the dead — embodying the inescapable crimes of the past — haunt the characters like avenging revenants. Otranto is a novel of passion and terror, of human identity at the edge of sanity. In that sense, Horace Walpole did indeed set down the template of the Gothic. The Gothic may have mutated since 1764, it may now go under many different guises, but it is still with us today. And there is no escape.


Professor Nick Groom is Professor of English at the University of Exeter. His new edition of The Castle of Otranto for Oxford University Press will be launched at the British Library on 6 December. You can now listen to a complete audio guide of Professor Nick Groom’s interview with Oxford University Press.

Professor Groom will also be speaking about The Castle of Otranto at Horace Walpole’s former residence, Strawberry Hill on the 19 December 2014 from 7pm to celebrate the 250th Anniversary of The Castle of Otranto, taking place on the 24 December.

Empire: The Controversies of British Imperialism

Originally posted on the Imperial and Global Forum – the blog of the Centre for Imperial and Global History at the History Department, University of Exeter.

Marc-William Palen

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Exeter’s Centre for Imperial and Global History launches a new, free online course.

We are delighted to announce that, starting in January 2015, we will be running a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the history of the British Empire.

The British Empire was the largest empire ever seen. It ruled over a quarter of the world’s population and paved the way for today’s global economy. But British imperialism isn’t without controversy, and it continues to cause enormous disagreement among historians today. This free online course will help you understand why.


Over six weeks, we’ll explore the British Empire through six themes – money, violence, race, religion, gender and sex, and propaganda. You’ll get to hear the stories of the fascinating individuals who contributed to both its rise and fall.

Along the way, you’ll be able to debate the questions these themes raise – with both course educators and learners from around the world – and draw your own conclusions.

Experts from The Centre for Imperial and Global History at the University of Exeter will be your guides. The Centre brings together the strong research expertise of the University’s eminent imperial historians. It comprises one of the largest groups of imperial and global historians currently working in the UK.

The lead educator for this course is Richard Toye – Professor of Modern History and author of several acclaimed books, including “Churchill’s Empire: the World That Made Him and the World He Made.” You can follow him on Twitter @RichardToye.

You can start to explore the British Empire and find out more about the Centre for Imperial and Global History by following @ExeterCIGH on Twitter. Use the hashtag #FLEmpire to join and contribute to social media conversations about this course.

This course will also give you the opportunity to purchase a Statement of Participation.

This course is intended for anyone with an interest in imperial history. It doesn’t require any reading before you start or previous experience of studying the subject.

To sign up via the FutureLearn site, please click here.


Dr Marc-William Palen, Lecturer in Imperial History at the University of Exeter and is editor of the Imperial & Global Forum, the blog for the Centre for Imperial and Global History.

Find out more by visiting the Centre for Imperial and Global History on their blog or follow on Twitter @ExeterCIGH #FLEmpire.

Penryn Press Ltd

This month we focus on the new student-run publishing house based on our Penryn campus, Penryn Press Ltd. Digital Director and second year English Literature student, Alexandra Simon-Lewis explains the initiative and tells us about their plans for the next academic year…

Penryn Press Ltd was founded in September 2013, developed and run by students of the University of Exeter. We started off as a fairly small initiative, with five company directors and a number of volunteers dedicated to transforming the vision of a writer-orientated publishing house into a reality. We are supported by the University of Exeter’s Annual Fund and this helped us develop the resources we needed to reach out into the local community and engage with our prospective readers and writers. Our aim is to publish exciting new literature that represents the fresh authorial voices of the South West region. As a student run publishing house, we are a unique initiative, with an entirely different voice. The first year was a strenuous but highly worthwhile proce

Our aim is to expand both in terms of community engagement and also the diversity of our published work. The South West and Cornwall in particular are areas rich in natural beauty and mythology, perfect environments to inspire a wealth of imaginative stories. It’s an interesting place to live and work and as such we want to engage with local communities in the hopes of not only keeping a love of literature alive, but also a strong sense of heritage. One of the projects we’re putting together is a ‘Dragon Trail’, an interactive exploration of the environment, incorporating stories from our latest book. We are also very interested in expanding to digital platforms, so as to provide the opportunity to read these stories on a variety of devices.ss and it’s clear from the recent publication of our book ‘Did You Know There Are Dragons In Cornwall?’ that there are many talented new voices that encapsulate the unique environment and cultural history of the local area. Recently, leadership has been passed onto a new board of directors and we are very motivated to follow on from the outstanding work accomplished by our predecessors.

As the Digital Director for Penryn Press, I work to develop the company to showcase the new opportunities for literature in a digital age. My aims are to produce interactive eBooks that bring to life the stories our writers create and to produce media that connects with a new generation of readers. The development within the publishing industry to incorporate new technologies has been astounding in recent years and it is my belief this trend will continue. My hope is to create eBooks with multimedia integration, so that the stories we create have the potential to include music and animation to capture your attention on every level. We are dedicated to the work we produce and hope to publish work that the reader will enjoy as much, if not more than we do.

Next year we want to develop some of the ideas we’ve been brainstorming, working to help promote the voices of a new generation. It’s going to be very exciting and challenging, but I know that everyone involved is committed to developing Penryn Press into a sustainable, long-term business venture.

The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum for historians

This post was originally posted on the blog for the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter.

Emily Vine

I’m currently researching items in the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum collection which could be of particular use to historians. I’ve come across a wide range of material which extends far beyond what you might expect to find in a museum of cinema, and have tried to identify how such items could be relevant to a broader range of historical themes and approaches than may be immediately obvious.

I began by looking at the collection of stereoscope cards; cards with two slightly different photographs printed next to each other, which when viewed through a stereoscope create a 3D image. Although they are held in the museum for their association with the development of the moving image, the pictures themselves comprise a wide range of subjects and have historical value beyond cinema or cultural history. I’ve been particularly focusing on a set of stereo cards depicting colonial life in India in the early 1900s, and also several sets which depict scenes from the First World War. The images of India are interesting because they were produced by a British company to demonstrate the ‘positive’ impact of colonial rule, and portray an extremely generalised and condescending view of Indian people. The images of the First World War were also intended to be viewed by the British public and consequently present a nationalistic view of the achievements of the British army; glorifying the events of the trenches and emphasising the bravery and camaraderie of the soldiers.
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I then moved on to look through a large number of nineteenth century guidebooks, social histories and periodicals which provide invaluable insights into Victorian life. They are part of the collection because they make reference to popular culture through the mention of cinemas, music halls or peep shows, but they contain a wealth of other information which would be very useful primary source material for social historians. Henry Mayhew’s four volume work London Labour and the London Poor proved to be an extremely valuable source of both statistical and anecdotal information about the lives of the working classes, with particular emphasis upon the ‘underworld’: the criminals, prostitutes, and street beggars upon which much of our conceptions of the ‘bleak’ Victorian age are based. The collection of London guidebooks proved to be equally as informative; providing a wealth of information about popular tourist sites, admission prices, public transport, popular recreation and leisure activities, and important public buildings and institutions, as well as maps of London as it once looked.

Those unfamiliar with the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum may be surprised at the extensive amount of pre-cinema material within the collection. Amongst much else there are numerous maps of Exeter and London from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, satirical / political cartoons, ephemera relating to panoramas, and a large number of eighteenth century prints, including my personal favourite, a print of a Hogarth engraving of Southwark fair.
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The appeal of these items extends far beyond their original association with the development of the moving image; they are artefacts which would be of great interest to social, cultural, political and even military historians.
Film magazines such as The Pictures and The Picturegoer are extremely useful for providing an insight into popular culture, leisure activities and social aspiration in the twentieth century. They demonstrate what a key role film played in the lives of ordinary people; both how film reflected social concerns and current affairs, and also how people reacted to film and aspired to have or be what was depicted on the big screen. They are invaluable resources for social or cultural historians, and those looking at concepts of gender, class, consumerism and leisure. The adverts in these magazines are particularly interesting; they are often targeted at particular ideals of masculinity and femininity which tells us much about societal norms. From a modern perspective it’s interesting to note how little celebrity magazines have progressed in a hundred years; when looking through the oldest film magazines of 1911 you can still recognise the early obsession with the beauty of film stars, and tips on how readers can look or behave like their idols.

Other interesting periodicals in the collection include Cassell’s Popular Educator and Living London. Cassell’s Popular Educator is a periodical containing miscellaneous articles of general knowledge; it was created in 1852 to allow the working classes, and those with limited access to formal education, to instruct themselves on a range of subjects, and consequently better themselves. It contains articles on English, History, Philosophy, Languages, Business and Commerce, Art, Music, Science, Mathematics, and was called by one commentator “a school, a library and a university.” Living London is an illustrated periodical with miscellaneous articles and stories about life in London at the turn of the century; giving an invaluable insight into a diverse range of social and cultural practices.
I found it interesting looking through the large collection of publicity programmes for documentary film showings and lantern slide lectures. They demonstrate how cinema and the moving image were used to inform as well as entertain, particularly by presenting to the audience images of a place or event they would otherwise never have access to. The subject matters of these documentary films and lantern slide lectures vary greatly, but they are often concerned with ‘exotic’ countries, far corners of the British Empire, the royal family or the First World War. The way in which these subjects were presented to the British public, or were considered worthy of widespread public attention, tells us much about conceptions of national identity, and attitudes towards racial or cultural difference.

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This project has emphasised that the usefulness and interest of the collection extends far beyond its primary purpose as a centre for the history of cinema. My research has focused upon items which would be particularly useful to history students, but the artefacts in the collection are relevant to a wide range of subjects and approaches. As part of this project I’ve updated many descriptions in the museum’s online catalogue athttp://billdouglas.ex.ac.uk/eve/search.asp , so that many items should be more easily searchable through the use of broader keywords such as “British Empire” or “First World War”. The full list of items I’ve identified and made notes on should be distributed around the history department, and also be made accessible to history students via ELE. This list includes items which are directly relevant to a number of undergraduate history modules, as well as items which could be valuable primary sources for research projects such as Doing History or dissertations. I hope that this will make more students aware of the wide range of resources available to them at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum and also make it easier for them to search and access the collection.

The Search for Beauty: Italian Women on Screen

This post was originally posted on the blog for the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter.

Grazia Guila Gigante, Emily King, Isabel Davies and Sophie Adams

Whilst studying an Italian film module which focused on the representation of beauty in contemporary cinema, we developed a personal interest in the culture and history behind popular Italian film stars. We relished the opportunity to explore this further through the research and compilation of our exhibition at the Bill Douglas Centre, focusing our research on the glamourous era of the 1950s and 60s.  Whilst our module had given us an excellent introduction to Italian contemporary film, researching at The Bill Douglas Centre provided us with a unique opportunity to discover primary sources firsthand. We had access to an extensive selection of extra-textual material, ranging from artists’ sketches to popular magazines of the time, with a vast array of material showcasing both the on-screen and off-screen personas of famous film stars of this era.

In an interview with Barbara Walters Sophia Loren affirms:  ‘I’m not Italian, I’m Neapolitan! it’s another thing’. The question of national and regional and class identity is particularly interesting when analysing the ‘maggiorata’ phenomenon from an Italian point of view. The bodies of Sophia Loren and Lollobrigida are not only stereotypically Italian they are ‘napoletani’ and ‘romani’.  Sophia Loren and Lollobrigida both played roles that enhanced these regional characteristics, emphasizing not only their physicality but also their accents. Their pin up bodies were regularly placed and shot in agricultural environments, around fields and rivers, as were other Italian female stars of the period.  During our research in the Bill Douglas centre we have seen how this was the case, as seen in this iconic image from “Bitter Rice”.

Milky Way Group Women

Their social upbringings are also significant; most of the beloved 1950s actresses came from a poorer background, usually rural. Audiences experienced a glamorizing portrayal of the lower classes. A great number of people now saw, with these women, a representation of their values and customs on screen. The depiction of the lower classes interested the Neo-realism movement too, but with a different focus, with contrasting aims. Films starring these beautiful women were usually comedies, comedies that did not have an explicit primary interest in social comment and critique.  But it would be wrong to think that Italian actresses of the 1950s engaged only with light comedy roles.  In La Ciociara Sophia Loren demonstrates that she was also an established actress.

Milky Way Single Woman_1We also focused on the film industry’s heightened fascination on the female body and its sexualisation. As we have seen in films of this period that we watched as part of our module, there was a very conscious effort from directors and the stars themselves to draw attention to the ever popular ‘maggiorata fisica’ and this in itself drew large audiences. This refers to the exaggerated female shape with voluptuous curves that was the common throughout the film stars of this period. From the fetishistic stockings of Silvana Mangano in ‘Riso Amaro’ to the corseted costumes of Sophia Loren in ‘La Bella Mugnaia’, the female shape started to take a starring role in Italian cinema and this was apparent in most of the sources we found as the media exploited these women’s shapes and rarely printed an image without a hint of Loren or Lollobridgida’s famous busts.

We also explored the cultivation of Loren’s image as a film star and her transition from sex symbol to maternal figure. In the 1950’s and 60’s the notion of paparazzi was still a relatively new phenomenon, and thus the film stars could still control more easily the image of themselves that was portrayed in the mass media.

Looking more closely at Sophia Loren, her exuberance and vitality were positive aspects for which she was admired but she also developed a maternal appeal over the course of her career as we discovered through several interviews with her in magazines of the time. As she already strongly embodied femininity with her overtly feminine physique, being a mother was another form of femininity which she could portray.

The transition of her image from sex symbol to an actress of substance and a maternal figure can be largely attributed to her aforementioned role as Cesira in Two Women or ‘La Ciociara’  in 1960. It was interesting to put the images next to each other in the exhibition and see the juxtaposition between her well put-together beauty of many of the star portraits and the more dishevelled portrayal of her in the film.

Two Women Loren

This role greatly contributed to the cultivation of a more robust image of Loren which ensured that she would be remembered not just for her beauty but for her skills as an actress too.

Overall, this experience was extremely rewarding as it gave us the chance to build upon our knowledge of the films that we have studied through the use of invaluable artefacts contemporary to the era. The Bill Douglas centre gave us the opportunity to access relevant sources that allowed us to delve deeper into the personal lives of these Italian film stars and their representation in English and American press. This provided us with an alternative viewpoint to that which we had already explored in class, and a more extensive grasp of this dynamic topic, which we felt lent itself excellently to a visual exhibition.