History

The Women’s Film & Television History Network-UK/Ireland began as a small, informal Women’s Film History group, itself inspired by a wider international movement.

Traditionally film history has paid little attention to the contribution of women to film history – other than as actresses. But from its beginning women have been active in and around cinema as directors, scriptwriters, designers, cinema owners, distributors, publicists, reviewers, audiences, campaigners and so on. Consequently in the late 1990s an International Women Film Pioneers Project was initiated in America to address this gap in historical knowledge. Now based in the Film Division at Columbia University, New York, it is paralleled by the biennial Women and Silent Screen Congresses staged in different countries since 2000. These initiatives are supported by the umbrella organisation, Women and Film History International.

Till recently this work has had little impact in Britain. The Women’s Film History Network-UK/Ireland was therefore initiated to promote and support research into women’s filmmaking history in Britain and Ireland, from the silent period to the present. The Network was guided through its infancy under the dedicated leadership of its founder member Professor Christine Gledhill and, with help from, especially, Professor Julia Knight and other key founder members, it gained momentum following a successful bid for funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to set up a Women’s Film History Network-UK/Ireland in 2009. The AHRC gave our proposal its highest grade and we gratefully acknowledge its recognition of this neglected area of women’s history. Equally we are grateful to the Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Sunderland in giving this award an institutional home.

Although funds were limited, they supported four interdisciplinary Workshops staged between 2009-2011. These Workshops drew on Network members according to expertise to form small working parties to address the conceptual and organisational issues involved in establishing the Network’s long-term function and infrastructure. Over the course of the funding period, the Network developed its online presence through its Wiki site created by Alexis Weedon and via members’ own activities, such as the Women and Silent British Cinema website co-developed by Clare Watson and Nathalie Morris. In April 2011, the Network held its inaugural conference entitled Doing Women’s Film History: Reframing Cinema Past and Future (hosted and supported by the Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Sunderland), the success of which is an encouraging indication of the interest and quality of research in this area of film and television history. In part due to the contributions made by television history scholars at this conference and through discussions held in the Network’s workshops, a motion was passed in the summer of 2011 to widen the Network’s key focus to include women’s television history.

The history of the Network’s founding Workshops (2009-2011), its earlier work around silent cinema, and its first international conference are recorded on its archival Wiki, at the Women and Silent British Cinema website, and the conference blog.

Today, to ensure continuing core activities of the Women’s Film & Television History Network-UK/Ireland, a steering group of self-funding volunteers have taken on particular responsibilities in pairs or small sub-groups for two years, meeting three times a year to review and co-ordinate support activities and new developments. Steering group membership is drawn from volunteers nominated at WFTHN general meetings held at the biennial Doing Women’s Film & TV History conferences. However, volunteers may offer help or be co-opted in the interim.

We warmly invite new members to join the Network and to get involved with its concerns and activities. To join WFTHN, click here.

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