The Sweet Smell of Scholarship


Chetham’s Library, Manchester, founded 1653.  An inspiring location for a Research Away Day, Jan 2016.

With its dark skies, short days and cold temperatures, the month of January can be a bit of a challenge.  Yet brightness and hope were in abundance yesterday at the Apparel Research Cluster Leaders’ Away Day.  Five of us (myself included, along with my Associate Dean of Research and the trusty Cluster Leaders: Prabu, Shuyu and Kathy) were ‘away’ on the other side of Manchester city centre at Chetham’s School of Music.  Our purpose was to discuss strategy and tactics for the continuing development of the Apparel Research Group, which I head up.  We did this by thinking about short and long term goals, assigning tasks (the key to leadership is delegation, right?), planning some future research events, listening to, and learning from, an invited critical friend (the inspiring Professor Martyn Evans from our School of Art) and also, importantly, spending time with each other in a fresh, and therefore, stimulating environment.

And, what an environment Chetham’s proved to be!  I had booked The Audit Room for our meeting, which is part of a complex of Medieval Buildings arranged around a cloistered courtyard and immaculately manicured formal parterre.  The Audit Room boasted a view of the Cathedral as well as its own timbered ceiling replete with grotesque carvings.  Our day’s discussions, then, were overseen by a carved Mouth of Hell mask, which adorned the ceiling, and depicted a sinner being ingested in its grisly jaws.  Stirring stuff, indeed!

Why the blog entry?  Well, in answer to that, our day included an archive element.  At lunchtime, I had arranged for us to have a tour of the famous Chetham’s Library (founded in 1653), located just upstairs from us.  What a sensory experience!  As we ascended the staircase, the smell of thousands of books, centuries-old, was all pervading.  History is perfumed with an intoxicating, and not unpleasant, mustiness.  Raking winter sun shone through the leaded windows.  And, best of all, we were permitted to handle some of the books from the collection dating from the seventeenth century.  Fergus, the curator, kindly selected some books on ecclesiastical and national dress, richly illustrated with etched drawings on linen rag paper.  The Reading Room, where we viewed these, was furnished with artefacts from the 1650s.  On the wall, was an elaborate heraldic and emblematic display commemorating Humphrey Chetham and his foundation.  Fittingly for us, as research-driven visitors to Chetham’s, this tympanum bore books and torches, symbolic of learning, as well as a cockerel to suggest hard work.  Surely, a good omen for the new year and new academic term ahead?

Architectural and archival wonderment aside, did our Away Day prove productive in terms of our work-related objectives?  I believe so, and I sign off here with some of the research advice, generously shared with us yesterday by Professor Evans, ringing most melodically in my ears:

1.Know ‘who’ you are as a researcher or research cluster.  Know what you do, do what you do, and do it well.

2. Don’t be a ‘one hit wonder’ and flit from unrelated project to project. Establish a specialism and maintain a track record in a particular research area.  Articulate the narrative between your research interests.

3. Don’t be a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’.  Bring research and teaching together as closely as possible, even if the fit isn’t perfect.

4. Publicise your research through networking and use social media to ‘get it out there’.  Communication of your research is needed both internally to university colleagues and to the world beyond.

5. Be clear about knowing ‘when you’ve got there’.  How will you recognise the fulfilment of your goals and aims.  What will you do when you’ve reached them?