Giselle Gonzalez Garcia is a PhD student in History and Irish Studies at Concordia University, focusing on Irish migration to Cuba. Her MA thesis, “Caught Between Empires: Pre-Famine Irish Immigrants in Santiago de Cuba, 1685-1847,” won the Edward Eastman McCullough Award for a research essay judged to be of exceptional merit. Giselle is also a very active Research Assistant on the GMM Project, focusing on the Beauport Lunatic Asylum outside of Québec and literally keeping tabs on the main data-set.
Who is your favourite academic?
At the moment, I deeply admire the courage and resilience of the Cuban academic community, both at home and abroad. I have been following the works of Julio César Guanche (https://globalcit.eu/team/guanche-julio-cesar/) and Ailynn Torres Santana (https://www.irgac.org/fellows-staff/ailynnsantana/). They are both public scholars that actively participate in the daily political debates in Cuba, even when doing so might affect them in their personal lives. From them I have learned to value critical thinking, and to historicize the present and the events we are living. Reading Guanche and Santana makes me feel that what we do matters, that historians and trained academics are not entities removed from society studying theoretical questions, but voices of sanity and reason amidst increasing political polarization.
What are you reading for work and/or for leisure these days?
For work: I have a seemingly endless reading list to prepare for my comprehensive exams, but at the moment I am truly enjoying Kim Thúy’s Ru (2009), the remarkable story of a Vietnamese immigrant woman to Canada.
For leisure: I really like to finish my day reading something completely unrelated to work or research, so right now I am slowly making my progress through Chanel Cleeton’s The Most Beautiful Girl in Havana (https://startupcuba.tv/2021/09/02/the-most-beautiful-girl-in-cuba-book-chanel-cleeton/) (2021), a historical fiction novel that reconstruct the life of Cuban hero Evangelina Cisneros, a woman that history seemed to have completely forgotten. It was a very welcomedvolume. I purchased it the second I learned it was released to the public.
What podcast do you recommend?
At the moment I am enjoying: Human Resources (https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/human-resources/id1565249472), a podcast about Britain’s murky connections with slavery and the slave trade; the 90 Miles Podcast (https://startupcuba.tv/2020/08/06/90-miles-podcast-a-new-podcast-to-close-the-90-mile-gap/), a show that serves as a bridge between Cuba and the United States by featuring collaborative projects on both sides of the Florida strait; and for Spanish speakers, El Enjambre (https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/el-enjambre/id1483349684) a podcast that is truly giving a space to dissenting and critical voices within Cuban society.
What is your favourite archive or library?
Wow, this is a truly difficult question to answer. The Long Room at Trinity College Dublin felt like a place I wanted to inhabit forever. I felt very privilege to be granted access to its manuscripts collection. The most beautiful book editions I have ever held in my hands were loaned to me there. And a few days later, I ran into the librarian who had helped me so much in a train headed to Galway!
As for an archive, I will never forget my visit to the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) in Belfast, but for reasons not academically-related. While doing research there in the Spring of 2019, I happened to run into my childhood hero,
Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe. Meeting him brought me back to growing up in Havana, Cuba and making the best of friends through Harry Potter book exchanges and getting lost in a world of fantasy to escape for a while from our harsher realities.
What book or movie changed your life?
A book that deeply impacted my worldview is Cien Años de Soledad (A Hundred Years of Solitude) by Colombian Novel laureate Gabriel García Marquez. To understand the current issues of Latin America so embedded in our colonial past, it is a must read. Another book that sent me on my current trajectory was Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. My Cuban edition is almost torn to pieces due to the many times I have perused its pages. It was the first book I wanted to read in English, so I pushed myself to master Shakespeare’s language in order to fulfill that desire. Years later, a “Yankee-friend from Connecticut” gifted me an English copy.
Do you play music while you work? If so, what?
Playing music while working is a must for me; I cannot concentrate otherwise. I want to believe my music taste is eclectic, and I listen to everything from Cuban hip hop, Latin American urban genres (mostly reguetón) to American pop and British rock’n’roll, but I also have a playlist with Taylor Swift that has 273 songs. This includes her unreleased catalogue. This one often takes precedence while working. Swift’s folklore and evermore 2020 sister albums, with their many references to Emily Dickinson and F. Scott Fitzgerald, their complicated diction and their many clever alliterations, have me craving a rainy day, a walk by a lake, and ghost stories by the fireplace.
What do you know now that you wish you had known at the beginning of your career/degree?
I wish someone had told me that as a historian I also need to know Math to conduct my own statistical analyses. I also would have liked someone to encourage me to learn more about Biology and Genetics. Researching the history of human migrations requires some of these skills in our tool box; nevertheless it has been fun to learn them on the side. If I had to advise people that are new to the humanities, I would say: never be afraid of pushing the boundaries of the discipline you are in, it is a richer narrative that you are constructing if it is informed by the knowledge of experts in other fields.
What is your favourite way to de-stress?
I listen to music, go for a long walk, or binge-watch Outlander on Netflix. I also like to go to bed with a non-work-related book, often a work of historical fiction.