How To Indulge Your Academic Curiosity

From London’s secret libraries, to free lectures, discover our tips for reconnecting with your inherent curiosity

By Hannah Connolly

28 April 2023

ecently, at The Stack World, we have been thinking about our academic passions, those areas of knowledge and curiosity that excite us and open our minds to worlds and times beyond our own. Personally, I have always been drawn to history, and it is a lot to do with how I got to be here today writing this article.

As a child, some of my strongest memories were of visiting a Tudor/Jacobean manor near my home in Leeds, called Temple Newsam. I would pretend to be a tour guide and take my family around the many rooms, memorising the sitters of portraits by their clothes, then asking as many questions as possible to the House's guides to learn each of their stories.

This sparked something inside of me, the understanding that history was less about facts and more about the human experience, and that there is an infinite pool of stories to uncover and with that a way to inform my direction here in the present. I honed those skills and continued to flex them, then I went to university, studying Fashion Journalism under the tutelage of writer and historian Judith Watt. Here, my passions were set alight, with access to a library unlike anything I had seen before, and with the museums of London at my disposal I was eager to learn, see, read, watch, and indulge my academic passions in every way possible.

Then I graduated, and after my BA I stopped indulging my academic passions quite so much... Over the past few years, I have been actively reconnecting with these interests and with my inherent curiosity. From hidden public collections to secret libraries – there is so much out there to tap into.

So, whether you are a lover of research, and reading, have an untapped historical interest or passion you want to pursue, but don’t feel you have the time to indulge – this week we are sharing our tips on how to honour your academic interests.

Where to go

“Those who do not learn very much from the lessons of history are the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.” – Aldous Huxley

Libraries: London, and indeed the UK is home to some of the world's best libraries. Finding time to visit them can add so much value to your life, and is a cost-effective way of accessing near-infinite resources. The average person in the UK reads around 10 books a year, but utilising even your library can exponentially increase your options, and broaden your reading materials into new subjects and fields. To start, check out your major local library and try a subject area that already interests you, then broaden the scope from there. Here in London, we have a few favorites:

The National Poetry Library: Sitting above the Royal Festival Hall – opened in 1953 by TS Eliot- is home to more than 200,000 works of modern British poetry. Used by emerging poets honing their craft, head here to connect with like-minded poetry lovers. (There is also a children's poetry corner here, filled with games and puzzles).

National Art Library (V&A): Next to the stunning jewelry room at the Victoria & Albert museum sits the art library – it overlooks the courtyard and holds a general collection of ceramics, textiles, art, sculpture, and fashion. Hundreds of editions of Vogue magazines live here, and original manuscripts of classic novels, such as Dickens Bleak House – including original proofing notes.

The London Library: This is one of the world's oldest lending, independent libraries. Founded in 1842, it boasts more than one million books with 8,000 new volumes added annually. To visit for the day, it costs £20.00.

Free University lectures: All UK-based Universities offer free lectures to the public, on all subject areas – all you need to do is a quick google search to see what’s on offer. This free resource gives you direct access to experts in fields you may already be interested in or ones you would like to learn more about. We recommended coming with a question at the ready, or even hanging around afterward to meet members of the faculty – often there are drink receptions after bigger talks, and this is a great way to build out your academic circles.

Who to invite

Building a community around your passion is a strong way of ensuring its success, a shared passion is in of itself an inherent communal connection. When it comes to your academic interests, the beauty is, there is bound to be someone in the world that shares the same.

The advice would be to find your circle by looking for free events and being open about your academic loves, you will attract like-minded individuals this way. As we so often say here at The Stack World, hosting a dinner is a key tool to harness. Take inspiration from the salons of 19th century Paris and invite your friends or network to dinner and take turns sharing what areas you would love to learn more about.

Have an academic passion you want to build your network around? Well, our Member Success Manager Bella Cary is on hand to help you get a Club and event listed in our updated app. Book a calendly call and get 1:1 support on how to plan, get live and organise your event. BOOK YOUR SESSION HERE.

What to discuss

If you want to connect with someone 1:1, then heading to a collection or exhibition is great, it allows you to really get into what makes you both tick, what areas interest you both most and where you can share knowledge. Open the conversation with something like: “So I really love XXX, are you interested in this period of time?” Or “I have a huge passion for this writer, who is your favorite?”

Zoom into the specifics that make you tick. For example, I have a huge passion for 19th-century British artist Aubrey Beardsley, through personal research projects I have connected with people not just across the UK, but across the world. I did this by taking the time to not only delve into my passion but by seeking out those who share it. In my case this meant discovering that a small university in Texas is home to one of the foremost Beardsley historians – we still check in with one another after connecting years ago.

Ask yourself these questions and then pose them to those you connect with: What is the broader context of the particular area you are interested in? What was happening culturally and politically? What drew you to this area? What does it make you feel? Why do you want to connect with others on this?

Top tips

  1. Use your local resources: Check what is available close to you and make use of it. Local independent bookshops tend to run event programming you may not even be aware of, from masterclasses to evenings with authors.

  2. Be open and curious about your passions. Passion is an attractive quality for all relations in our lives, it's where humans come alive and connect - don't internalise what interests you and allow others to enjoy it alongside you.

  3. Make a meal of it: Getting together over dinner, as you know by now, is our preferred MO. Book a restaurant or a cosy pub (for history lovers The Citte of York is great or Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese). Invite the academically curious together for an evening and see where the conversation leads you.

  4. Honour your childlike curiosity: As we grow older we sometimes forget the curiosity we harnessed as children - look at the subject areas that interest you with pure curiosity, and your learnings will enhance other aspects of your life.

The Short Stack

From London’s secret libraries, to free lecturers, discover our tips for reconnecting with your inherent curiosity - this article is for our weekly Superconnector Newsletter.

By Hannah Connolly

More from Culture