Is ‘Industry’ a Dirty Word?

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Gerrard Carruthers image
Professor Gerard Carruthers

In the Arts, in academe, ‘industry’ is sometimes seen as a dirty word. Well the ‘industries’ that I engage with are various and represent a huge support to the research I do on Robert Burns. I work with the ‘creative industries’, where our events at the Centre for Robert Burns Studies often involve musical performances (since Burns was a great song-writer as well as poet), and also theatrical performance (there have been at least a dozen serious dramatic renditions of aspects of the Bard’s life). I also work sometimes with the auction-room ‘industry’, contributing to the authentication or otherwise of the many Burns-related manuscripts and artefacts that come up for sale. In this connection, I am currently at the beginning of efforts with scientist colleagues to work on the chemical composition of ink signatures and paper chromatography for Burns and his series of forgers, who sometimes worked on a cottage-industry scale!

I am frequently in collaboration with the ‘Heritage Sector’ or ‘Industry’, including national cultural institutions, local authorities and the Burns Federation as we turn our collective efforts towards making sense of Burns in his own day, the writer’s huge, global cultural afterlife, and even the impact Burns has on the present-day Scottish economy. I was also involved in advising the Post Office on their design of a commemorative postage stamp for the 250th anniversary of Burns’s birth in 2009. Most recently I have had discussions with more than one whisky distiller about how they might draw on Robert Burns. I have academic colleagues who would regard this as a bit vulgar. I don’t and precisely because my experience here has shown me people in ‘industry’ who are looking not only to get their marketing right (and no apology should be made for that) but also looking to create something, a product and also its placement, which is commercial, certainly, but also something they genuinely believe to be an experience that they wish people to enjoy and in which they look to have for themselves a large professional pride.

So, ‘industry’ from my experience betokens necessary collective effort, lots of it contributing to all kinds of creative, cultural and practical output and a much more joined up experience than this Arts academic might otherwise enjoy!


Watch Gerard’s video ‘The Bigger Picture‘.

Text by Prof Gerard Carruthers, Francis Hutcheson Chair of Scottish Literature

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Post Author: Fraser Rowan

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