Achievement honour for film professor

Sue Harper - CopyA University of Portsmouth film expert is set to be honoured by the British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies (BAFTSS).

Sue Harper, Emeritus Professor in Film History, will be presented with an outstanding achievement award at the organisation’s annual conference in Bristol next April.

The BAFTSS executive committee unanimously agreed to confer the honour in recognition of Professor Harper’s outstanding contribution to British film history.

Professor Harper said: “I am really honoured to be presented with this. For me it is the equivalent of winning an Oscar, in that your work has been judged as important by your peers. I’m proud, surprised and a bit humbled by it.”

Professor Harper first came to the University in 1968, when it was still a polytechnic, to teach English literature. She was one of the founders of a BA in cultural studies, helped set up the School of Creative Arts, Film and Media (now the School of Media and Performing Arts) and led a major project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, on British film culture in the 1970s.

In addition to her work at Portsmouth, she is the author or co-author of several books on British cinema, including Picturing the Past: The Rise and Fall of the British Costume Film, Women in British Cinema: Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know, British Cinema of the 1950s: The Decline of Deference, and British Film Culture in the 1970s: The Boundaries of Pleasure.

She has also published numerous articles in scholarly journals, including two drawn from the ledgers of the Regent Cinema in Portsmouth in the 1940s which she discovered in the city’s museum.

The status of film as a subject of academic study has changed greatly during her time at the University, she said.

“In the early days, it had little credibility as an academic subject. When I realised it could be real goer at Portsmouth, I decided to requalify in it and did a diploma, MA and PhD in the subject. Since then, film history and film studies as a discipline have become very successful.

“The study of film and its history is a crucial part of understanding the way culture works and is produced. We are a heavily visual culture, and film history provides us with a way of understanding not only our past, but our present too.”

Professor Harper also fostered the School of Media and Performing Arts’ thriving postgraduate research culture, supervising more than a dozen PhD students and nurturing early career researchers.

She described this as her greatest achievement: “My PhD students have taught me as much as I taught them. I am proud of the fact that, without exception, their PhDs and the intellectual training I gave them allowed them to get proper academic jobs.”

Professor Harper is recognised as an important intellectual pioneer who contributed much to the so-called ‘historical turn’ in academic film studies from the 1990s onwards. Since her retirement in 2012, when she became Professor Emeritus, she has continued to publish and present papers, the most recent of which, about the 1963 film Tom Jones, appears in the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television.

Earlier this year she gave a speculative paper at the Institute of Historical Research, modelling new ways of conceptualising the relations between film history and broader cultural history.

Beyond the world of film, she is a keen writer of fiction and plans to publish a book of her short stories.


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