Research Radar – Julie Guyot

Julie Guyot is a History Professor at Cégep Édouard-Montpetit and a PhD Candidate in the Department of History and School of Irish Studies at Concordia University. She is also the author of Les Insoumis de l’Empire. Le refus de la domination coloniale au Bas-Canada et en Irlande (1790-1840). Septentrion, 2016.

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

My number one academic was undoubtedly Jean-Paul Bernard (1936-2013). He taught in the History Department of Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM). He was a humanist with a brilliant mind and a kind soul. He was a meticulous historian who approached whatever material he was working on from every possible angle. He also reflected on and theorised history. It was a treat to listen to him speak and appreciate the great store he set in clarity and precision. As a professor, he was extremely generous with his knowledge and time. Jean-Paul was a product of the collège classique system (Collège de Saint-Hyacinthe) and of the Université de Montréal’s History Department. His PhD thesis (Les Rouges. Libéralisme, nationalisme et anticléricalisme au milieu du XIXe siècle (1968)) remains to this day the authority on Quebec’s radical politics of the 1850s. His supervisor, Maurice Séguin, is a key figure of the « École de Montréal » historians. Jean-Paul’s work was deemed extremely important by the sociologist Fernand Dumont, who wrote the preface of the published version of his thesis (Presses de l’Université du Québec, 1971).

I didn’t have the privilege of having Jean-Paul Bernard as a professor during my undergraduate program, though I did read his work and come to learn he was a specialist in 19th century Quebec history, in particular of the Patriots Movement of Lower Canada. I didn’t meet him personally until I began preparing my master’s thesis in comparative Quebecois and Irish history, on the theme of the rejection of British colonial domination during the Atlantic revolutionary period. I had a research idea in mind which I wished to share and discuss with him. Our meeting was memorable. I found a mentor who was to become a friend.

Among the notions he valued as a historian was the scope and range of any specific topic. What he meant was that research should not merely cover the time and place of the topic (its scope) but also focus on its possible influence and meaning (its range). He also warned me not to fall into the trap of drawing fallacious conclusions, insisting that I read the American historian David Hackett Fisher’s essay Historians’ Fallacies. Toward a Logic of Historical Thought (Harper Perennal, 1970).

His work ethic, the quality of his thought and of his work has inspired and shaped my own approach. He emphasized the need not only to be thorough and intellectually honest in my work but also to wind down intellectually and physically in order to produce the best work. Himself a fine tennis player, he once offered me a book by a professional coach showing how gripping and releasing the racquet between hits actually prevented “burn-out” – as apt a metaphor for intellectual endeavor as I have ever encountered!    

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

For work, I’m reading books and articles to help guide my Thesis Research Proposal. Some of these are The British Empire. Themes and Perspectives. (Sarah E. Stockwell, ed., Wiley-Blackwell, 2008); Revolutions in the Atlantic World. A Comparative History. (Wim Klooster, NYUP, 2018); Comparative Historical Analysis in Social Sciences. (James Mahoney, ed., Harper & Row, 2003).

For leisure, poetry (example – Work until you find resistance (Alexandra Pasian, Coach House Printing, 2019); and novels (Middle England, Jonathan Coe, Viking Press, 2018; Pas même le bruit d’un fleuve, Hélène Dorion, Alto, 2020; One Last Stop, Casey McQuiston, St. Martin’s Publishing Group, 2021; Riquet à la houppe, Amélie Nothomb, Albin Michel, 2016).

What podcast(s) do you recommend?

On the Ohdio app of SRC (French CBC), I recommend two in particular which look at critical moment in Quebec history, the construction of the hydro dams up at James Bay and the 1970 October Crisis. 

On Hydro Quebec dams up at James Bay: Transmission (Annie Desrochers, radio anchor)

On the 1970 October Crisis :

CBC podcasts I like are Ideas, which takes a deep dive into contemporary thought and intellectual history. Another one in particular I favor is Telling our Twisted Histories, on the indigenous journey over time.

What is your favourite archive or library? / What is your fondest research memory?

I greatly appreciate the Webster Library of Concordia. It is user-friendly. The research tools and the archives are generous and relevant. There is a very good training program in documentary research which is an inter-library collaboration. I also salute the GradPro Skills program.

My best memory is of the National Archives of Ireland, Dublin, May 1998. I was thrilled just to be there though afraid I lacked the technical knowledge to draw benefit for my research project. I was working on Republican activist Theobald Wolfe Tone and the 1798 Irish Rebellion. I was fighting against time to go through newspapers and archival dockets and so was fortunate to get help from an archives clerk who enabled me to find a useful document that was subsequently photocopied and mailed to me, to my great joy.

What book or movie changed your life?

I’m afraid my answer won’t sound original, for one of my generation! The author who had the greatest impact on me was Albert Camus, French philosopher, novelist and political activist. I read his complete work as a Cegep and Undergrad. I was inspired by his determination to link thought to deed, as well as his stress on applying the lessons of universal history to guide thought and decision making.

One movie that greatly impressed me at the time of its release, 1989, was Dead Poets Society. While it happens in an all-male boarding school and depicts girls and women conventionally, this film stood for the value of standing up for one’s ideas, respecting oneself and pursuing one’s dreams and passions. It bolstered my own determination to do so. 

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

Classical music is often on while I work, though not Beethoven, whom I find too intense. This has been my habit since my days in Cegep. It helps me focus while reading or writing. Even though there is no scientific proof to back me up, I have always found that listening to classical music heightens my receptivity and creativity.

What is your favourite way to de-stress? / What habits or hobbies support your research practice and/or allow you to destress?

My favorite method is to work out, doing HITT or ballet. I schedule a 30-minute workout session every morning. Sometimes I add another in the evening, stretching or ballet. Whenever possible, I get away for a weekend or during holidays for an outdoor activity, downhill skiing, snow-shoeing, hiking, swimming, cycling. The connection to nature revitalizes. I can also relax by cooking: it requires all my attention but I don’t feel any pressure to perform.

What are your essential research tools/supplies and why?

It may surprise, but I find Sofia can be good research tool in locating primary sources. If they are not available at Concordia, Sofia can put one on the path to another institution that has it. For world history, Historical Abstracts is also valid. I like ProQuest Historical Newspapers when I’m on the look-out for American or British journal articles.

How has the pandemic affected your research practice?

I’ve had to put a hold on my Thesis Proposal. In March 2020 I was doing documentary research to find primary and secondary sources. The libraries and archives shut-down made this unfeasible.

Favourite form of procrastination?

That’s easy! Reading newspapers (Le Devoir, NYT, The Guardian, The Irish Examiner). Or simply going skiing or hiking.

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

That it is very hard to do a PhD in History while being a full-time Cegep professor (not to mention Union Executive), being a caregiver to needy elderly mother and having to mitigate multiple sclerosis (MS). I knew that doing research and writing a PhD thesis required dedication, but I was convinced I could juggle my responsibilities and pull off the PhD within a reasonable amount of time. Now I’m more flexible as to what reasonable means. I think I know what it feels like to be a marathon runner training for the Olympics.    

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