Molly-Claire Gillett at the National University of Ireland, Galway

Irish Studies Seminar Series, Semester 2, 2019-20
4pm, Thursday 16th January 2020.
“Inspecting the inspectors: labour, design, and lace in late-19th/early-20th c. Ireland”

Molly-Claire Gillett, Visiting Doctoral Scholar, (Irish Studies, Art History, Design and Computation Arts), Concordia University, Montréal, Canada.

In 1897, Lucy Deane travelled from London to Donegal to investigate offences against the Truck Acts of 1831 and 1887, meant to prevent agents from the exploitative practice of paying textile workers in kind rather than in cash. Deane was a representative of the British Home Office, appointed to the still-new position of Woman Inspector, and her diaries from that sojourn in Donegal reveal the ingenuity of her attempts to gather evidence, but also the resistance she meets from the craftswomen, for whom her nationality and governmental ties present an insurmountable obstacle. And yet, Deane received a letter of thanks from these same women for successfully ending the truck system in their region.

Fifteen years later, another inspector visited the same communities: Emily Anderson, a middle class lace designer from Co. Cork, based in Dublin but with ties to the Agricultural Co-ops in her home county. Anderson was also a representative of the still-new Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction (DATI), based in Dublin, and she is the focus on my ongoing doctoral research project into the DATI’s role in turn of the century Irish lace production.

This paper will explore the case studies that Deane and Anderson present, considering how the porous and shifting boundaries of class and nationality inflect the practice and reception of labour and design inspection, and ask questions about methods for a research project of this nature, which aims to take the perspective of both the inspector and inspected into account.

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