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Photo of Dr Lisa Smithstead

Dr Lisa Smithstead

Senior Lecturer in Film Studies


01392 725404

Office hours:

Queens 152.


I am a Senior Lecturer in Film Studies in the Department of English and Film.

My research focuses primarily on feminist film historiography. I research the relationships between literature, gender and audiences in the early and interwar periods, looking at intermedial exchanges between women's film and print culture, and female film stardom. I am also a specialist in archival film and literary studies.

Recent strands of my research have included histories of location filming in rural spaces and the use of archival actuality footage in researching Deaf histories in the South West of England. My latest book, Reframing Vivien Leigh: stardom, gender and the archive is out now with Oxford University Press (2021). In July 2018 I was awarded an AHRC Early Career Leadership Fellowship for the Reframing Vivien Leigh project, which ran for 20 months from January 2019.

My current research project focuses on stardom and unmade projects in the archive, including case studies of unmade adaptation of The Bell Jar.

Research interests

My research interests include:

  • feminism and film history
  • women’s cinema
  • women’s writing and print cultures of film
  • adaptation
  • cinema and intermediality
  • interwar cinema
  • film audiences and reception
  • modernism, modernity and the movies
  • archival theory and practice
  • historical fandoms
  • star studies
  • location filming histories


My previous research focused on the relationships between literature, gender and audiences in the early and interwar periods, looking at intermedial exchanges between women's film and print culture. My monograph titled Off to the Pictures: Cinemagoing, Women’s Writing and Movie Culture in Interwar Britain was published with Edinburgh University Press in 2016. The book explores women’s intermedial fictions surrounding the first three decades of UK film culture. It gives new understanding to female-created cultures of cinema and their influence on women’s everyday lives through an original exploration of short stories, middlebrow and modernist literature, tabloid criticism, and a wealth of ephemera.

My current research focuses on archives, women’s creative labour, and feminist film historiography. This work is primarily focused on a case study of the archival histories of Vivien Leigh (1913-1967), reframing one of the twentieth century’s most iconic female stars through her diverse and dispersed archives. In July 2018 I was awarded an AHRC Early Career Leadership Fellowship for the Reframing Vivien Leigh: stardom, archives and acess project, which ran for 20 months from January 2019, and involved collaborative partnerships with the University of Exeter and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, Topsham Museum, and curatorial experts at the Victoria & Albert Museum. The project explores regional film histories and curatorial practice for preserving women's star legacies. It included a project symposium, public exhibitions, and the creation of a variety of new digital resources -- including a new podcast series and Story Map resource tracing the movement of archival objects from Hollywood film sets to regional museums. The project produced detailed new research around museum artefacts that tell of Leigh's unique South West connections and meanings - including costumes, correspondence, scrapbooks and memorabilia -- and the curatorial stories that have resulted in their acquisition and regional significance. You can explore project outputs at Reframing Vivien Leigh.

My book on the topic, titled Reframing Vivien Leigh: stardom, gender and the archive, is out now with Oxford University Press (2021).

This work has its foundation in my wider research around archival theory and practice, leading on from my co-edited collection (with Dr Carrie Smith) The Boundaries of the Literary Archive (Ashgate 2013), and a series of archive-focused research activities including grant capture within the AHRC Beyond Text scheme. I ran a project titled Object Stories in 2015 with Dr Helen Hanson (Exeter), exploring the history of archival objects held at Exeter’s Bill Douglas Cinema museum through a series of online video essays. You can view my video essay here. You can also read my blog about the project and working with a student filmmaker on the Exeter Humanities Blog.

Research collaborations

Much of my current and ongoing research project work is fundamentally collaborative. I work with academics across institutions and disciplines, and with non-academic partners including charities, archives and museums.

I have run a project titled Filming Rural England in collaboration with Dr Lavinia Brydon of the University of Kent. The project focussed on the impact of location filming on regional spaces and communities, and how memories of filming are archived and accessed. We launched the project with a community case study in the village of Chilham, Kent. You can read about the project on our Filming Rural England Blog. In 2017 we published a piece with SERIES journal on location filming for the BBC adaptation of Emma.

I was also Co-Investigator of the AHRC Connected Communities funded project Lost Spaces (2015). This project was a collaboration with Dr Dai O’Brien (PI, York St Johns), Dr Nick Nourse (University of Bristol), the Deaf Studies Trust, and the British Deaf Association. It explored the loss of Deaf community spaces and Deaf heritage in Bristol. The project included a series of Deaf filmmaking and poetry workshops in Bristol, alongside a heritage community event and awareness march through Bristol city centre. Our project documentary was screened this summer at the Watershed in Bristol.

I recently completed a project funded by an AHRC ECR Leadership Fellowship titled Reframing Vivien Leigh: Stardom, Archive and Access in collaboration with Topsham Museum, The Royal Albert Memorial Museum, The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum and curators at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Research supervision


I welcome research proposals for PhD projects in and around any of the following areas:

·       film and literature

·       stars and stardom

·       adaptation

·       feminism and film history

·       women’s cinema

·       print cultures of film

·       British and American interwar cinemas

·       film audiences and reception

·       modernism, modernity and the movies

·       archives

·       fandom and fan cultures

·       location filming

​Please contact me directly ( with any supervision enquires.

Research students

Current research students include:

  • Kalcheva, Yana (first supervisor) 'Lost Girls in Dark Fantasy Cinema: Guillermo Del Toro, Peter Jackson, Terry Gilliam, Tarsem Singh and Neil Jordan.'
  • Evans, Mary Anna (first supervisor) 'Agatha Christie, Witness to the Evolution: Women, Justice, Crime Fiction, and the Twentieth Century'
  • Kaminsky, Tamara (second supervisor) 'Constructing Conversations: Tracing the formation of the celebrity interview and its cultivation in the Nineteenth Century Popular British Imagination'
  • Babu, Sherin (second supervisor) 'Domestic Feminism in Shakespeare, Browning and Whitman: A Study of Women’s Clubs in 19th and 20th Century America and England'

External impact and engagement

My research involves close collaboration with museums and archives, including centres such as the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, Exeter, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. I have also worked closely with external partners like the Deaf Studies Trust and the British Deaf Association. My recent research into Vivien Leigh and her archives has sought to forge innovative new impact opportunities, creating public education resources for regional museums which contain Leigh collections and memorabilia.

I have worked with local secondary schools in creating widening participation schemes to bring local students to University archival centres to learn about film history, and to encourage students to consider undergraduate level film studies.

From 2014-2016, I co-ran Screen Talks (with Dr Felicity Gee, Exeter) in collaboration with the Exeter Picturehouse. This initiative (originally developed by Dr Helen Hanson) screened ongoing programmes of films for public audiences, featuring introductions from academics and informal open discussions.

I created the Film Talk programme at Exeter, and informal review club where everyone is welcome to discuss the latest big and small screen releases. This has now been running successfully for a number of years.

I have also been involved in a number of impact and outreach projects associated with the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, including family fun days and public talks, and have given talks for organisations such as Exeter’s LQBTQI+ Society, and Cardiff University’s ‘Book Talk’ series.

Contribution to discipline

I was a Visiting Examiner for undergraduate degrees and graduate diplomas in Media Arts at Royal Holloway, University of London (2017-2020).

I am currently an External Examiner for the School of the Arts at the University of Liverpool.

I have acted as a peer reviewer for a number of film and literary journals, and have reviewed monograph proposals for publishers including Edinburgh University Press.


My research into the history of early film fan cultures has featured in local newspapers and radio. My Object Stories film, ‘Penning the Screen’, was screened at the ‘Onwards and Outwards’ event at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in 2015.


I teach on both the Undergraduate and Postgraduate programmes in Film and English at Exeter, and convene modules such as the Level 1 EAS1034 Film Studies: An Introduction, the Level 2 option EAF2502 Shots in the Dark: American Film in Profile and the third year specialist option EAF3106 Female Screens: Representation, Agency and Authorship. I am also the convenor to the new MA module EAFM089 Archival Encounters: Material Film Histories.

I am also the new Programme Leader for the forthcoming MA in Film and Screen Studies.

I have previously held teaching-related administrative roles including Course Director, Peer Mentor Coordinator, and International Student Support Tutor, and regularly mentor PhD students on the GTA training programme at Exeter.

I also act as a Personal Tutor for students in the Department of English and Film.

You can find out more about my teaching and approach to student learning and engagement here

Modules taught


I hold a PhD in English from the University of Exeter, which was awarded in 2011. I have since lectured in British and American Cinema at Exeter, and in Film Studies at the University of East Anglia, where I was part of the British Cinema and Feminist Media Studies research clusters.