James Dean in 'Rebel Without A Cause' at the Bill Douglas Centre

James Dean in 'Rebel Without A Cause'

Angry young men at the Bill Douglas Centre

Students from the ‘Gender and Citizenship In Britain Since 1866’ module have taken part in a new initiative to encourage History students to think more creatively about their use of primary sources for research.

Second-year student Emily Vine has led a group of students to work with the museum’s curator, Phil Wickham, to create an exhibition that is open for students, staff and the general public.

“Angry Young Men” is an exhibition on masculinity in popular culture in the 1950s and 60s, and includes rare memorabilia such as postcards, film stills, publicity leaflets and books. Using examples of iconic actors like James Dean, Marlon Brando, Stanley Baker and Michael Caine, the student-curated exhibit explores ‘British New Wave Cinema’, and the issues of class and American culture on British youth at the time. Sophie Noke, second-year History student, who helped curate the exhibition, comments “The legacy of the ‘kitchen-sink’ drama is seen in Soap Operas today in the twenty first century such as Coronation Street and East Enders, which in turn explore similar themes within a similar environment as the traditional 1950s British New Wave Dramas.”  

The project follows a successful exhibition by History students on women and film fan culture in the 1920s. Dr. David Thackeray, who has led the project, says “This module, along with ‘Britain, The Mandates and the Modern Middle East’, another History module, aims to use the resources from the Bill Douglas Centre in a variety of ways; in presentations, and in blogs to inspire students’ own material in student-curated exhibitions and to digitise the resources to make them more accessible to all. The Bill Douglas Centre makes assessment beyond conventional essays and presentation formats possible.”

The Bill Douglas Centre is the second-largest film archive collection in Britain, with over 70,000 items, and is based in the Old Library on the Streatham Campus. Over 1000 of the items are currently on display in the two galleries, including replica early optical entertainments, film merchandise from the origin of cinema, and memorabilia of film stars over the years.

The students are documenting their work in the museum online at the Bill Douglas Blog, commenting “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.”

The Bill Douglas Centre always welcomes volunteers, and is a unique resource both to help with students of film history and for those aiming for a career in curating or archiving. Dr. Thackeray hopes that the experience will be invaluable from an employability experience, and adds, “I can envisage these students going on to work in Heritage management and cultural research – they are learning great transferable skills and the opportunity to learn outside the classroom and work with these rare artefacts will help students to see the potential careers coming from a History degree at the University of Exeter”.

Entry to the Bill Douglas Centre is free, and the exhibition will run  until the end of May. To find out more about the Bill Douglas Centre, visit the Exhibitions blog or the Bill Douglas Centre website.

First year students who are interested in taking the ‘Gender and Citizenship in Britain Since 1866’ module should contact Dr. Thackeray directly at D.Thackeray@exeter.ac.uk.

Date: 20 March 2013

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