On the 8th October 2015, Northumbria University welcomed several students from the AHRC Heritage Consortium, as well as a number of PhD candidates from our own institution and further afield. The Gothic Heritage Study Day aimed to introduce students to issues surrounding public-facing heritage research, as well as the relationship between academic research and the general public.
We were delighted to introduce Tim Pye and Greg Buzwell (of The British Library), who were two of the three curators of the ‘Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination’ exhibition, which ran from October 2014 to January 2015. Tim and Greg offered a real insight into the exhibition approval process at the British Library, but also, more specific curatorial decisions such as identifying the project team, content development and exhibition design, marketing and media tie-ins, object selection and labelling, loan objects and interactive material.
Following lunch, and a dramatic room relocation due to a flood of biblical proportions in the auditorium (!), we heard from Catherine Wynne (University of Hull), who offered us some less familiar narratives about Whitby Abbey. Catherine detailed that Whitby’s Gothic credentials didn’t necessarily begin with Dracula, and that several earlier accounts bore witness to the ghost of St. Hilda. She also underlined Whitby’s status as a tourist destination long before Stoker even visited that small fishing town, and provided a number of challenges to our received idea of Whitby Abbey, including Alfred Morgan’s delightfully sunlit ‘Part of the Remains of Whitby Abbey’ (c. 1862-68).
The final session of the day was an object workshop, in which the students considered some of the problems they may encounter in their own curatorial practice. The students’ objects ranged from the classic sublimity of gargoyles and skull postcards and Edgar Allan Poe’s works, to more tricky items such as a badge found in a church, and most notably, a brick!
The organisers of the day, Dr Claire Nally and Dr David Stewart, would especially like to thank the AHRC Heritage Consortium for their financial support, as well as Northumbria University’s Department of Humanities.
Text and images by Claire Nally