Research Radar – Molly-Claire Gillett

Molly-Claire Gillett is a PhD Candidate in the Individualized Program (Art History and Irish Studies) at Concordia University. Her answers are adapted from a phone interview with Gabrielle Machnik-Kekesi.

© Shaney Herrmann

Who is your favourite academic? / Who (academic or not) has shaped your critical thinking the most and why? 

Henry Glassie.  He writes beautifully and his work models a deep engagement with the interconnected nature of people, place, and material, years before people started to theorize this nexus.  His scholarship exemplifies the importance of having respect for the people that are the focus of your study.  I think about Glassie’s work a lot in the context of academia as industry, which pushes us to consume people’s stories as products for our scholarship without prioritizing the need for care of these stories.

What are you reading for work and/or for leisure these days?

For work, Amateur Craft by Stephen Knott.

What podcast are your listening to?

Aria Code, hosted by Rhiannon Giddens.  The host breaks down different opera arias.  For me, an especially impactful episode involved a conversation with emergency room physicians in winter 2021 about messages of hope in opera.

What book or movie changed your life?

Passing the Time in Ballymenone by Henry Glassie.  I’ve read it several times, and I return to it when I feel like my project is lacking direction, or when I question the impact of my work

Do you play music while you work?  If so, what?

I used to listen to music while I worked, but I don’t anymore.  My capacity to focus on many things at once has decreased over the years, particularly more so because of stress-related fatigue during the pandemic.  I wonder if you asked me this three years from now if my answer would be different…

What is your favourite archive?

The Belfast Central Library’s newspaper reading room, because you can flip through physical copies of 19th c. newspapers, which is very rare nowadays, with most newspapers being digitized and collections pushing researchers to consult them digitally. It’s also right around the corner from my favourite pub in the city!

What do you know now that you wish you had known at the beginning of your career/degree?

I’m going to flip this; I’m glad that I was told early on how important it is to cultivate a community of fellow PhD students as well as a good work-life balance.  I’m really grateful for this advice.  PhD work can be lonely, and these tools helped me to combat that.

What is your favourite way to de-stress?

Running and cooking.

Is there a research initiative that you would like to use this platform to highlight?

National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage and Headford Lace Project.

How has the pandemic affected your research practice?

The pandemic prevented me from going back to Ireland for additional field work (my last trip was in January 2019).  The act of returning was an important part of my research practice, as my methodology involved following particular individuals/specific groups over time.  To adapt, I approached one specific maker, started taking her lace-making courses online, and made her a more prominent figure in my project. 

Due to travel restrictions, I also had to adapt my primary source material, so I worked more heavily with the British Parliamentary Papers (digitized) and the Irish Newspaper Archive (online).  This change also required me to alter the timeframe of my research project.  All this prevented me from exploring different pathways (looking into nuggets found in the archives in more detail and doing more spontaneous lateral research), which is regrettable.  Yet, it also forced the removal of other distractions and allowed me to progress significantly in my writing.

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