It is “born of turmoil and confusion and disruption”. Not another change to student number controls, but the gothic, which Manchester Metropolitan University’s new Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies aims to cast light on by combining a lively programme of public engagement with research into some distinctly dark themes.
The centre came about, explains Linnie Blake, principal lecturer in film, when she noticed that there was “an extraordinary degree of academic specialism in the gothic” among Manchester Met’s scholars. But although most of those colleagues are cultural critics who work on everything from the 18th-century novel to today’s horror films, some rather more surprising disciplines are also represented.
Those in the “research cluster”, said Dr Blake, include an expert on philosophy and the gothic; a psychologist working on the psychology of belief in the supernatural; and a human geographer who looks at “ghostly tales and ghostly spaces” and how “haunted sites are configured in tourism and the heritage industry”.
The cluster even boasts a microbiologist who finds it helpful to use zombies, vampires and werewolves as models of contagion when explaining the principles of epidemiology to the public.
Although they are “brought together by a weird and grand obsession”, continued Dr Blake, “we are not all singing from the same hymn sheet or grimoire”. She sees her own research as “very politically engaged”, exploring how the gothic “emerged out of an era of revolution, looks at the dark underside of social change and addresses issues people would prefer not to look at. It is not a genre of the happy interwar years but one born of turmoil and confusion and disruption. When gothic culture flourishes as it does today, we should all be worrying about the state of the world.”
Although a number of universities now offer MAs or modules in gothic studies, Dr Blake believes that Manchester Met’s is the first UK centre to bring together different disciplinary strands to combine teaching and researching the gothic with knowledge exchange and public engagement.
Along with an official reception on 25 October, the centre is being launched in conjunction with the Gothic Manchester festival, which will continue until October and include a zombie pub quiz, a goth club night, a gothic tour of the University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library and another of “monstrous Manchester”.
As part of “an outward-facing venture designed to garner publicity”, Dr Blake said that she and her colleagues “have had fun gothing it up” in photographs at well-known Manchester landmarks. She has been greatly impressed by “how much expertise there is among fans who have undertaken quite serious research. I see enormous scope for producing short courses to bring academic study of the gothic to a much wider popular audience.”
Once one knows where to look, Dr Blake said, the gothic is everywhere. “Anyone who enjoys film noir has indulged in various gothic pleasures. Dickens plays on the urban gothic. In many cartoons of the current Tory Cabinet, Iain Duncan Smith is portrayed as vampiric.
“The biggest mistake is to think of the gothic as something only for black-clad tattooed teenagers. It is within us all.”