Dr Linnie Blake, Director of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies, on the work of the Centre and the week of spooky events that launched it.
The Gothic Manchester Festival, that ran between 21st and 27 October, has now come to an end. For a frantic week, myself and HLSS Faculty Research Fellow Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes played host to a number of sold-out Gothic themed events. There was a lamplit tour of the Manchester Gallery, a lecture by eminent gothicist Professor David Punter, a ghost hunt at Ordsall Hall, walking tours, a double bill of horror films at Cornerhouse (in collaboration with the BFI), readings by eminent and emergent horror writers and a one-day Open Day showcasing MMU’s academic work in the Gothic. It was quite the week. And quite a launch for the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies.
When I first conceived of the strange child that has become the Centre, I thought of it in several distinct but interlocking ways. As a subject specialist in Gothic film, tv and literature I saw it as a means of consolidating the research strengths of my home department: English being home to the MA English Studies: The Gothic and to a number of subject specialists with international reputations in this field. As a former MMU Public Engagement Fellow, I was keen that the Centre capitalise on the contemporary ubiquity of gothic culture to engage the general public – bringing our academic knowledge and the public’s investment in things gothic together in new and productive ways. As a former Programme Leader with an eye not only to recruitment but widening participation I felt that MMU English was ideally positioned to become a centre of excellence in the teaching of the gothic, at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. As I first conceived of it, the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies was to be a local initiative for local people with a very ‘English Department’ flavour.
Like all gothic children, though, the Centre then grew in strange and unexpected ways.
With the support of MMU’s Institute for Humanities and Social Science Research the Centre is now the home to the Gothic Research Cluster which brings together specialists in Microbiology, Human Geography and Psychology as well as Literature and Film. This offers hugely exciting opportunities for trans-faculty inter-disciplinary work which I am convinced will bear its own strange offspring in time.
We have planned, for future launch, an open access online peer reviewed journal: which will facilitate speedy publication for late postgraduate and early career lecturers working in the gothic.
We plan to host a biennial postgraduate conference supported by eminent academics in the field. In collaboration with local groups and organisations, we plan to create a programme of training in public engagement and knowledge exchange for postgraduates and early career lecturers.
We will continue, of course, to work to a widening participation brief through the provision of Gothic Open Days to targeted schools and Sixth Forms.
And we are in discussion with project partners from the Manchester Gothic Festival about the creation and delivery of a number of short-courses in the gothic that will appeal to their constituencies. For these an AHRC bid is pending.
As our delightfully extensive media coverage shows, all of this has caught the public imagination at a time at which the appeal of the gothic has never been greater. For those of us who know about the gothic, this really comes as no surprise. The gothic, after all, speaks of the dark side: those aspects of contemporary society we’d rather not throw a light on, the parts of ourselves we’d rather keep hidden, the secrets and lies, the terror and cruelty and injustice of the present moment. It’s no coincidence that the gothic has never been more popular. In the present moment it has a great deal of cultural work to do. And the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies hopes to lead the way in its exploration of this most perversely vital of cultural forms.