Medewerker van de maand (oktober 2023): Piril Us MacLennan

The staff member of this month is Piril Us MacLennan, who is working on space in historiographical writing and recently went on a research stay to Oslo.


Hi Piril, lovely to have a chat with you! You started your PhD two years ago, can you tell us a bit more about your research and how it’s going?

I’m working on Byzantine history writing of 11th and 12th centuries. The 11-12th centuries were an exciting period for Byzantine literature with prolific experimentation between different styles and genres. So, it has produced a lot of well-known and fascinating histories. I was trained as a historian but my interest has always been to treat these sources as literature first. My main goal in my project is to demonstrate how authors’ depictions and/or narration of spaces, places and landscapes can contribute to the narrative arch of these histories, help realize the authors’ goals or make these histories more entertaining or immersive for their readers. I make use of various tools and concepts from literary studies, narratology and cultural geography.

How fascinating! Earlier this year, you also spent a few months in Oslo on a research stay. How did that go?

My research stay at the University of Oslo was very productive for me. It is great to hear different points of  view, especially when they counter your own. My interactions there helped me question and – if necessary – kill my darlings, so to say. It was also great to have a change of scenery. I enjoy living in different cities, meeting new people, learning about new languages, cultures and cuisines. In Istanbul, we try to do everything we can by the sea. So in Ghent, I miss being in close proximity to the sea and Oslo was perfect for me in this way. I quite enjoyed long meals and long runs by the fjord. Although I must confess it was a bit cold, but I find almost everywhere cold.

My interactions [in Oslo] helped me question and – if necessary – kill my darlings.

Now that the new academic year has started again, are there things you are looking forward to? How do you prepare for a new busy term?

I’m looking forward to actually writing the first chapter of my thesis with the feedback I received from my colleagues in Oslo last year. It’s daunting but exciting! Also, I love teaching and spreading the love for all things Byzantine. So, I’m very excited to lead the discussion seminars of the Byzantine history class in which we discuss Byzantine historiographical sources with bachelor students. It was a Byzantine History class in my last year as a bachelor student at Tufts University that sparked my interest in Byzantine sources, so I would be very happy if I could also help pass the torch to someone someday.

Sounds like a lovely goal! Lastly, what are some of your favourite places in Ghent? Any you would recommend?

I’m a big fan of Ghent’s small wine and tapas bars. But I must add, I’m developing a taste for dark Belgian beers as well. And lastly, It’s going to sound a bit boring, but where I go most often and regularly are Ghent’s parks. I especially enjoy going on runs at the Bourgoyen-Ossemeersen nature reserve and along the Coupere.

Thank you very much, Piril!