60 seconds with... Professor Claire Thomson

17 November 2023

Professor Claire Thomson reflects on her research as she prepares to give her Professorial Inaugural Lecture on Public health films in mid-century Scandinavia, at UCL on 22 November 2023...

60 seconds with... Professor Claire Thomson

Professor Thomson's Inaugural Lecture

Tell us a little about your research…

I specialise in Nordic, especially Danish cinema — a small nation that has had a surprisingly big impact on global cinema, in the silent era and since the 1990s. There are two main threads in my research: a) the use of film by states and non-governmental actors, particularly in the context of the Welfare State, to shape public behaviour and exert soft power; and b) a more filmmaker-focused approach which examines the working methods of auteurs using archive material (including unrealised film projects) and extends to aesthetic analysis of film, with particular focus on affect and materiality. 

Why is your research important?

If we want to understand a period or culture, we have to understand its media. Mid-twentieth century informational films were part of the fabric of life for many millions of people around the world for decades, circulating domestically and internationally. They provide an insight into the priorities of the technocratic powers-that-be, but also into social anxieties and debates, and into how messages get scrambled in medium-specific ways (colour films fade, projectors break, footage gets re-used).

 What inspires you in your work?

Most of my research involves digging through archives to try to determine how and why films were commissioned and made. I’m fascinated by the traces left by real people doing their jobs: letters, meeting minutes, index cards, coffee stains, how they made decisions, their humanity, their quirks, lots of mess.

What has been your most memorable career moment so far?

Nothing will ever beat the thrill of performing for Bright Club at a sold-out Bloomsbury Theatre, about ten years ago. Learning to present research as stand-up comedy changed my thinking about what I do, how I teach, and the value of feeling terrified and walking on stage anyway.

What passions/hobbies do you have outside of work?

My happy place is a nice loud post-rock gig. To achieve Zen, I translate: mostly from Danish, but I’m experimenting with Swedish.

What book is currently on your bedside table?

Andrew Greig’s At the Loch of the Green Corrie, which is ostensibly a biography of the poet Norman MacCaig, but is really an amalgam of a memoir, a travelogue, and a rumination on Scottish masculinity.