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Dr Becca Harrison

A white woman with long dark hair stands on a cobbled lane. The stone buildings around her form an archway overhead. She is wearing a long coat and boots.

Profile summary

Professional biography

Dr Rebecca Harrison joined the Open University as Lecturer in Film and Media in July 2021. Her research focuses on UK and US film history and investigates the connections between cinema, its industrial practices, and people's experiences of technology (she is especially interested in how gender, race, class, sexuality, and disability affect people's engagement with screen media).  

She provides expertise for TV and radio (BBC Radio 4, BBC Scotland, STV, CBC, etc.) and her work as a film journalist and critic appears in a range of broadcast, print, and online media. Dr Harrison also has experience as a curator, including as director of the 2018 Glasgow Feminist Arts Festival. 

Her approach to navigating academic and industry spaces is rooted in intersectional feminism. She advocates using and continuing to learn about strategies that make all spaces more accessible and just for marginalised people. She strives to ensure that actions and activism always accompany theory. Her pronouns are she/her/hers. 

Previously, she lectured at the University of Glasgow, the University of East Anglia, and UCL.

Research interests

Dr Harrison's research uncovers histories of material and visual culture. She's excited by feminist and interdisciplinary approaches that help us understand the production, exhibition, and reception of media, and she's also keen to learn more about how identity and power inform people's relationships with technology. For example, her first book, From Steam to Screen: Cinema, the Railways and Modernity (I B Tauris, 2018), revealed how cinema and the railways shaped experiences of modernity and empire in Britain. 

Currently, she's conducting research for a new book investigating how the Star Wars franchise is both entangled with histories of analogue and digital tech and embedded in the military-industrial complex. Additionally, she aims to explore the environmental impacts of the franchise's prop and costume making. Her second monograph, BFI Film Classics: The Empire Strikes Back (Bloomsbury, 2020), offers an introduction to her work on Star Wars. 

Alongside Dr Harrison's archival research projects she publishes and presents on gender representation, with her writing appearing on curriculums internationally. 

Teaching interests

Dr Harrison is producing a new shortcourse called 'Film and the Environment' that will introduce students to significant debates about cinema's reliance on the Earth and its resources. She is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and has taught a variety of courses on topics including film curation, film's connections to other technologies, and national cinema cultures. 

She has experience as a PhD supervisor and examiner and can support postgraduate research on a variety of topics. She invites proposals that take a historical approach to UK and/or US film cultures from the 19th to 21st centuries (e.g., by drawing on the daily press, museum objects, architectural drawings, government records, trade union documents, or film ephemera). Projects addressing histories of marginalised people or communities in relation to filmmaking, distribution, criticism, curation, or audiences are also welcome. 

Impact and engagement

Dr Harrison is regularly invited to discuss her research internationally and in the UK, including keynote talks (Realizing Resistance, USA 2021), panel discussions (Reclaim the Frame, British Film Institute), and public events (Scottish Queer International Film Festival 2020, Flatpack Festival 2017). Her writing appears in a variety of outlets including Sight & Sound, LA Review of Books, The Mary Sue, Screen Queens, and MAI: Feminism and Visual Culture.

She has organised screenings and arts events in London and Glasgow, and has consulted for local organisations (Glasgow Artists Moving Image Studios, a project to restore a 1920s cinema) and national institutions (National Railway Museum). She has also spoken at festivals, conferences, arts venues, and cinemas across the UK about her research and other aspects of the film industry. 

External collaborations

Dr Harrison is a contributing editor for MAI: Feminism and Visual Culture and is on the editorial board of the journal's imprint with Punctum Books. She is a special issue editor for Early Popular Visual Culture, having served on the journal's board since 2015. She is external examiner at Sheffield Hallam, where she supports the BA Film Studies. 

Further to her academic collaborations, Dr Harrison has and continues to work with a range of organisations (The 1752 Group, UCU, and Rape Crisis Glasgow and Clyde, among others) to affect change in how the Higher Education sector prevents and responds to sexual violence. 

Dr Harrison has contributed to the international membership organisation the Society for Cinema and Media Studies in a range of roles. Currently she is co-chair of the Gender and Feminisms Caucus (formerly the Women's Caucus). 

Dr Harrison has also been involved in a network including scholars, activists and NGOs working in support of indigenous communities in Mexico who are responding to and recording the effects of the climate emergency. The work conducted by the network has been supported by two AHRC Global Challenges Research Grants (2018, 2019), on which she was a co-investigator. 

Externally funded projects

The Environmental Impact of Filmmaking: Using Star Wars to Improve Sector Sustainability Practices
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01 Oct 202231 May 2024AHRC Arts & Humanities Research Council

From its inception to the present day, Star Wars has told stories about environmental change and planetary collapse. In A New Hope (1977), a human-made weapon obliterates the world of Alderaan. The Phantom Menace (1999) addresses and critiques the effects of colonisation on different species. And, in the most recent cycle of films, characters notice the effects of war on different eco-systems (Solo, 2018, The Rise of Skywalker, 2019). Emerging alongside the first mainstream public debates in the 1970s about climate change and other environmental issues, the Star Wars franchise has provided fascinating insights into discourses about humans’ impact on the natural world over the past five decades. But planetary exploitation is not limited to onscreen narratives. It can also be evidenced in the production, circulation, and commoditising of Star Wars media, which include films, TV shows, video games, theme parks, toys, and comics. For Star Wars objects, whether they appear onscreen or in stores, are all made of raw materials: Stormtrooper helmets rely on thermoplastics derived from oil; the prequel films (1999-2005) used silicon for computer chips that stored digital characters. Through its extractive, manufacturing, and waste processes, the franchise harms ecosystems and contributes to global climate change by emitting carbon, among other pollutants. Responding to the urgency of international activist movements and inter-governmental talks to prevent catastrophic climate change, screen media practitioners are seeking solutions to the environmental harms caused by film and television productions like Star Wars. For example, events run by the British Film Institute (London Film Festival industry panel, 2019) and Creative Scotland (Developing a Climate Emergency & Sustainability Plan, 2021) have invited industry experts to consider how the sector will adapt to climate change. However, as attested by leading sustainability consultants and project partner Albert (part of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, or BAFTA), most screen industry initiatives to date have focused on carbon-offsetting for location and studio shoots. This project, then, turns attention to the harms caused by creating and disposing of props and costumes. By focusing on recognisable UK co-produced films, and exploring the creation of objects crucial to the Star Wars franchise in terms of world-building and merchandising strategies, the project will demonstrate the importance of embedding sustainable design beyond the shoot. To do so, the project will collaborate with Albert to 1. provide industry practitioners with tools that reveal the hidden environmental impacts of prop and costume processes and 2. help them identify sustainable practices by which to make future productions greener. The tools will consist of sustainability calculators that measure the likely carbon emissions created by props and costumes through their manufacture and disposal processes. The project will focus on four case studies: 1. Analogue and digital versions of Artoo Detoo 2. A Queen Amidala costume 3. Stormtrooper helmets 4. An animatronic porg. On an open access project website, practitioners will be able to input data relevant to their own props and costumes to test their productions’ green credentials, as well as read about alternative materials and processes. Focus groups sessions with practitioners will contribute to designing useful tools and relevant website resources, and provide feedback so that the project team can measure the impact of research. Given the ubiquity of Star Wars props and costumes in the public imagination – films, characters, and visual iconography are referenced in British culture from footwear to Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK – the project is designed to interest the general public, too. Amid ongoing debates about how different industries contribute to harming the natural environment, it is important that screen media’s role is recognised and discussed. The project will therefore aim to transform public perceptions of screen media like Star Wars through a variety of engagement activities, including an industry workshop and public lecture hosted by the National Science and Media Museum, and social media accounts on Twitter and Instagram. Thus, The Environmental Impact of Star Wars Project will demonstrate how the design, manufacture and disposal of props and costumes are vital to industry efforts to make screen media more sustainable. By inspiring public conversations about industry practices, and equipping practitioners with tools to adopt greener processes, the project will have a lasting and positive impact on film and television production.

Publications

Telephone Networks and Transactional Motherhood in Channel 4's It's A Sin (2022)
Harrison, Rebecca
European Journal of Cultural Studies ((Early access))


Editorial (2022)
Shail, Andrew and Harrison, Rebecca
Early Popular Visual Culture, 20(4) (pp. 291-292)


Mabel, Marilyn, and Me: Writing about Mabel Normand as a Feminist Film Historian (2021)
Harrison, Rebecca
Early Popular Visual Culture ((In Press))


Gender, Race, and Representation in the Star Wars Franchise: An Introduction (2019)
Harrison, Rebecca
Media Education Journal, 65(2) (pp. 16-19)


Fuck the Canon (or, How Do You Solve a Problem Like von Trier?): Teaching, Screening, and Writing About Cinema in the Age of #MeToo (2018-12)
Harrison, Rebecca
MAI: Feminism and Visual Culture, 1(2)


Toward a History of Women Projectionists in Post-war British Cinemas (2018-01)
Richard, Wallace; Harrison, Rebecca and Brunsdon, Charlotte
Journal of British Cinema and Television, 15(1) (pp. 46-65)


The Coming of the Projectionettes: Women’s Work in Film Projection and Changing Modes of Spectatorship in Second World War British Cinemas (2016-04-01)
Harrison, Rebecca
Feminist Media Histories, 2(2) (pp. 47-70)


Writing History on the Page and Screen: Mediating Conflict through Britain’s First World War Ambulance Trains (2015)
Harrison, Rebecca
Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 35(4) (pp. 559-578)


Inside the Cinema Train: Britain, Empire and Modernity in the Twentieth Century (2014)
Harrison, Rebecca
Film History, 26(4) (pp. 32-57)


Haunted screens and spiritual scenes: film as a medium in the cinema of Carl Theodor Dreyer (2009-07-31)
Harrison, Rebecca
Scandinavica, 48(1) (pp. 31-43)


The Empire Strikes Back (2020-10-29)
Harrison, Rebecca
BFI Film Classics
ISBN : 9781911239970 | Publisher : Bloomsbury


From Steam to Screen: Cinema, the Railways and Modernity (2018-03-22)
Harrison, Rebecca
Cinema and Society
ISBN : 9781784539153 | Publisher : I B Tauris | Published : London


I Won’t Look: Refusing to Engage with Gender-Based Violence in Women-Led Screen Media (2024)
Harrison, Rebecca
In: Berridge, Susan and Boyle, Karen eds. Routledge Companion to Gender, Media and Violence ((In Press))
Publisher : Routledge | Published : London