Geek of the Month: Maegan (Mae) Gilliland

Geek of the Month

Name:  Maegan (Mae) Gilliland 

Age:  31 as of April 1.

Marital status:  Nope!

If partnered, how did you meet?  I met Jon (Wright) at Sabbath Records at Blue. (First Sunday night of the month at Blue - check it out!)

Hometown?  Pekin, IL.

How did you end up in Peoria?  When living in Central Illinois as an adult, I’ve always worked in Peoria. And it’s home. I love this city.

What makes you a geek? I analyze ancient manuscripts using various statistical methods. I’m a historian and a mathematician. My PhD research allows me to map out changes in religious texts (in this case the New Testament texts) from our earliest manuscripts (ca. 200 AD) until the modern period. I reduce texts to numbers! And this in turn allows us to peer back in time a bit. Manuscripts are time capsules. They reflect everything from political to philosophical changes in a culture. I’m hoping that I can shine a little bit of light on how the early text of the New Testament changed over time due to these various influences. (And just simple mistakes in copying, too.) 

Now what people do with that information once they get it is an entirely different story.. and that is when the controversy enters if you happen to be working with a religious text. History and SCIENCE!

I also worked at the planetarium and taught astronomy and science for nearly 15 years. (Go visit the Peoria Riverfront Museum planetarium and visit it often. Peoria has such fantastic resources for those who are interested in astronomy and science!) 

How long have you been translating ancient texts?  Well, I started my long academic journey way back in 1999. I moved to Edinburgh, Scotland a little over 5 years ago to work on my MA and (after that) my PhD. I’m in the final stages of my doctoral work and moved back to the USA to finish things up here. I will begin teaching undergraduate courses this autumn. (GET IN!) 

How did you get started?  I liked math. I liked science. I liked religious studies and history. And I especially liked to teach and help students think critically about their own research.

Oh, and I REALLY liked working with ancient Greek texts. 

Favorite movie(s)?  2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars. I’m slightly obsessed with both.

But on a quiet evening I usually find myself watching horrible B movies thanks to MST3K and Rifftrax.

Also: UHF. (Do not judge me.)

Favorite book(s)?  The “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” series by Douglas Adams. And ancient texts in general - especially if they’re in Greek. I finally proclaimed my love for these two things with my first tattoo: it’s in Greek and loosely translated means “Don’t Panic.” 

I also have an appreciation for all things Robert Anton Wilson.

Favorite type(s) of music?

Rock in all of its various forms. And Bach. Always.

Metal, 70’s funk and soul, reggae, blues, and Indian classical music are in the rest of my music collection. 

Favorite band? The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead, Rage Against the Machine, Jimi Hendrix, and Electric Light Orchestra make my brain happy.

I also find myself listening a lot to Peoria’s own Lark’s Tongue. (Check them out. They’re coooool.)

What is your favorite way to spend your Sunday Mornings? Reading, dance, and cooking up a fantastic brunch.

Astrological Sign:  Do you believe in horoscopes?

Nope. But I love astronomy, obviously. I love how a telescope is like a time machine. I love that we can see what the universe was like billions of years ago. And I obviously also love studying astrology from a religious studies perspective. 

What is your guilty pleasure? Weird Al. Seriously. He’s awesome.

What is your favorite place in Peoria?  The riverfront. It’s gorgeous. :) I’m usually down at the Riverfront Market on Saturday mornings selling my glasswork, so stop by and say hello in the summertime!

Do you have any pets?  Crystal is our beautiful pit bull and Hermione and Luna are the friendly and insane kittens who moved in last November (thanks PAWS and PFS!). 

Are there any special hobbies you enjoy?  I’ve been working with glass (leaded and fused) since I was a kid. I play violin and I’m in the process of learning the sitar. I’m also going to start a garden this year.

What events do you never miss? You know, I can’t stress this enough: there are SO many exciting things happening in Peoria right now, from The Great Burr Oak Science Club to green spaces to community improvement projects. GET INVOLVED!

And if anyone is interested in an MST3K/Rifftrax gathering on occasion, let me know. There’s a small group that gathers and we’d love to have other nerds join us.

Questions from previous Peoria Life Geek Fellows:
Who shot first – Han Solo or Greedo? 
Oh, Han.

Who is your favorite bearded person? Bob Ross. I have Bob Ross art & wine nights on occasion - we grab some paints, wine, and watch an episode. The man is pure magic. 

Where do you think technology has the most potential for helping others in the future?  Since I am in academia, I’m especially excited about how technology will enhance our abilities to collect knowledge and unite researchers. I spent several years traveling around the world photographing ancient manuscripts with a team of researchers with the intent of getting those images online for other scholars to look at. My own doctoral research relies completely upon these digital resources. I can only imagine what it will be like when all of these texts are able to be searched and when we can finally peer behind hundreds of years of decay and damage.. wow. I could go on and on. So many exciting things are happening in the humanities thanks to new technology!

What are you excited about doing with the technology that’s coming? Again, it’s that element of uniting with other researchers and being able to access information at any time. I can’t wait to see where technology like Google Glass heads next - implants that will allow us to access information at any time, for instance. 

Who would win in a fight? Superman vs. Batman, but Batman is in a Superman costume and Superman is in a Batman costume because it’s a Halloween party?   Rainbow Brite.

What are you doing to make Peoria into the cultural and economic hub that it once was? I work right now at the Community Foundation of Central Illinois. We have a fund, EPIC, whose members are emerging philanthropists in Peoria. Basically, it’s a group of people who have decided to donate $150 each and then take the sum of those contributions and grant them back out into the community. Anyone with $150 and a desire to bring positive change to the community can join it.

Once those funds are in the community, you can do SO much. There are great groups like The Whiskey City Collaborative and Startup Peoria who are helping facilitate or bringing about this change. 

Main Street and The Warehouse District are going through such an incredible transformation right now. A new generation of Peorians are not content to move out into the suburbs - we want the sciences, arts, and small businesses to flourish right here in the city. And it’s happening.

What public figure do you look up to and why? I have always been fascinated by Mary Harris Jones (“Mother Jones”). After losing her husband and children to illness and after her employer’s workshop was destroyed in a fire, she began to fight for the rights of workers and children. In the early 1900’s she was labeled as the most dangerous woman in America. And why? Because she spoke up. She said, “I hope to live long enough to be the great-grandmother of all agitators.” Whenever I need a bit of inspiration to work on research or get out into my community, I think about how much she had to overcome. What a fantastic human being she was!

Make up a question for yourself and future geeks columnists to answer.

Mike or Joel?