Caitlin Moriarty, Ph.D.
Place Present & Moriarty Meats
Describe your research interests. How have they evolved throughout your career?
I have always been interested in how retail spaces and commercial streets relate to neighborhood identity, and more broadly, the social and cultural functions of place. Places are more than just the setting of “history” but offer an important lens into the dynamics of change over time. More recently, through my work in historic preservation, I have become interested in the implications of place narratives like the contemporary “comeback” story of cities like Buffalo and how it reinforces the rise and decline framework of American cities that other scholars have shown to be partial and tired.
You spent several years working as a lead historian for an architectural preservation firm. How did that work differ from what you were doing as a grad student? And what did you get out of that experience?
It was satisfying to see history “uncovered” in projects and make the case for why buildings – most of which were vacant or in some state of disrepair – are still important to local history. My graduate program centered on using the built environment as a primary source of information, and we frequently grappled with the relationship between local history and “bigger” history. Buildings are inherently local yet they tell larger stories as well. As real estate developers in Western New York see new opportunities in historic buildings, architectural histories are valuable additions not only to their projects but as broader resources for the public, especially when narratives go beyond architectural style and create richer histories of how and why places were created and changed over time.
On a practical level, being part of larger projects with many moving parts forced me to let go of perfectionism for the sake of completing projects on time. Editing and working with others gave me new perspectives on writing process and effective communication. I hope that I am a better writer for it now!
What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?
I have to admit that I haven’t listened to a recent interview about the Buildings-Landscapes-Cultures field school in Milwaukee, but I am looking forward to it!
Personally, I am starting to conceptualize a project about the historic landscapes of butchery in Buffalo. In January 2018, my husband and I started a whole animal butchery, meaning we source animals from local farmers and Tom breaks them down by hand. Historically, all butchery was done this way but industrial scaling has changed every aspect of the chain. As I learn more about the networks between farmers, our shop, and our customers, I want to better understand how these relationships used and shaped the city in the past. I am particularly interested in the hundreds of small shops and carts that served Buffalo’s neighborhoods and the families who ran them. I’m still working to gather preliminary information and focus the inquiry but am excited to ultimately display the study in our shop.
What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for careers both inside and outside of academia?
Be open to opportunities and don’t underestimate how “academic” you can be beyond academia. There are tradeoffs in every scenario so ask yourself what matters most.
You now work for your new family business, Moriarty Meats. What parallels do you see between your academic and preservation careers and your new endeavor as an entrepreneur?
The more you learn, the more you know you don’t know!! I am really enjoying learning new things but, just like grad school, being self-directed comes with its freedom and challenges. The confused look you get when you tell people about your doctoral studies is not unsimilar to the one you get when you say you have a butcher shop, ha!
Our shop is actually located on the commercial street that I studied in my dissertation, which is a cool coincidence. I am seeing the history of the retail street, the legacy of mom and pop shops and the relationship between retailers and communities completely differently after a year of operating my own business here. I definitely have a new respect for the business owners I studied!