#InterviewSeries: Julia Gillen, Director of the Literacy Research Centre

“In their heyday postcards were not solely to be sent from vacations to those back at home or in the office but were part of a constantly maintained dialogue – similar to how the mobile phone operates” (Gillen, Hall, 2011:28)

Julia Gillen is Director of the Literacy Research Centre and a Reader in Digital Literacies in the Department of Linguistics and English Language at Lancaster University. Julia has a number of diverse research interests.  She is currently researching deaf multiliteracies within India, Ghana and Uganda in an ESRC/DFID project with children and young people learning English literacy. She is also leading a research strand in an EU COST programme – the Digital Literacy and Multimodal Practices, investigating the place of the digital in the homes of children under three across Europe. In addition, Julia researches postcards from the first decade of the 20thCentury, in the Edwardian Postcard Project.  She argues that due to the high number of postcard deliveries a day in this time, around six to ten in larger cities, and the advent of colourful images, that it is the first instance of a very cheap and fast form of communication that was both a picture and short message, becoming something like a precursor to the social media of today.

When Julia first interacted with the Centre for Mobilities Research, the works of John Urry, Monika Buscher and Colin Pooley peaked her interest and made her reconsider her outlook and perception of the way that things move and how we see things. This assisted the progression of her Postcards project as it enabled her to think further about postcards’ mobile trajectories, in a way that looked further into the mobility of inanimate objects. In preparation for the Mobile Methods (2011) chapter ‘Any Mermaids?’ written by Julia and her associate Nigel Hall, Julia researched further into the mobility of the Edwardian postcards and how in their time they moved very fast amongst networks of people in a way that couldn’t happen until the development of digital technology much later in the late 20thand early 21stcentury. This then brought her interests into the mobility of postcards in the present day and how these practices differed between one another, in the form of collectors’ fairs and other forms of circulation. Julia has also collaborated with one of our directors Jen Southern on the exhibition ‘Homing’ held in Preston at the Harris Gallery, in which Julia researched a postcard from a WW1 soldier from Preston and contributed her research to Jen’s catalogue.

“The mobilities paradigm brought to me refreshingly flexible, open, and creative ways of thinking about moving, especially the movement of inanimate objects as they are entangled with people and the environment in different ways. It’s also useful to gain a lens on regulatory regimes and everyday literacy practices.  Mobilities studies has resonated with my own criticisms of multimodality in linguistics, too often overly concerned with the individual agent and thus relatively static. Bringing together the essence of mobilities thinking and the contemporary tendency to see the limitations of perceiving only human individual agency as the root of everything enables us to move towards a more dynamic space with opportunities for more creative thinking, collaborations and research.” Julia Gillen, 2019

Julia has been working with Adrian Gradinar in LICA to relaunch the Edwardian Postcard Project with a dynamic website. This will enable people to engage with the website and the postcards in different ways, such as uploading their own and transcribe others to contribute to research.  The site is still under development but please take a look and you are always welcome to send your views and suggestions to j.gillen@lancaster.ac.uk.

Gillen, J. and Hall, N. (2011). ‘Any Mermaids?’ in Buscher, M., Urry, J. and Witchger, K. (1) Mobile Methods.London: Routledge. pp.28.

The original post can be found @ https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/cemore/interview-series-julia-gillen-director-of-the-literacy-research-centre/.

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