Posts Tagged ‘science



11
Jan
12

Pre-announcement : Doctoral scholarship in West African Studies

A fully-funded doctoral scholarship, tenable at the Sainsbury Research Unit for the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas (University of East Anglia) under the supervision of Dr Anne Haour, will be available commencing October 2012, linked to the project Crossroads of empires.

The PhD scholarship will cover fees (UK/EU or International) and maintenance for three years, plus some fieldwork and conference costs. The topic, to be finalised in discussion with members of the Crossroads team, will fall within the following areas:

- ethnographic studies of craft practices;
– medieval and post-medieval archaeology of the Niger Valley;
– museum collections of the central Sahel;
– cultural heritage in West Africa.

Full details and an application form will be available in late February, with an anticipated application deadline of 1st April.

 

01
Jan
12

2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here are some excerpts:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 30 trips to carry that many people.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for crossroadsofempires.wordpress.com, salines du midi, clement bakinde, and gobero expedition.

Most visitors came from The United Kingdom. Switzerland & The United States were not far behind. 32.8% of African visitors came from Nigeria.Viewers came also from the Philippines, Chile and Russia.

Click here to see the complete report.

09
Dec
11

2011 turns to 2012

We have just completed our first research paper on the outcomes of our 2011 field season in the Niger River Valley at the Niger-Bénin border, and have sent it to the Editor of the journal Nyame Akuma. In it, we first briefly outline the archaeological and historical background to the area. All that is known is that there was probably a succession of population groups in the area, but who, why, and when remains unclear. We then present the preliminary results of our ethnographic interviews with with former craft specialists or their descendants (weavers, dyers, blacksmiths, woodcarvers), as well as the findings of our archaeological investigations which involved both test pitting at BLaf, and survey.

Our 2011 fieldwork was designed to allow for a large-scale cultural overview of the area; the idea was that coarse-grained cultural variations would show up more easily at such a scale. The aims of the 2012 season are, on the whole, to start getting an in-depth view of some of the places identified in 2011. So we will:

-  continue the identification and localisation of archaeological sites in the valley, working to refine the spacing of the survey grid used in 2011;

- start to build up a chronological and cultural sequence by conducting large-scale excavations at BLaf and exploratory test pitting at 2-3 other  localities, sieving all sediment;

- conduct investigations of the geomorphology of the Niger River and its affluents with an aim to gaining a sense of any shifts in time;

-  carry out oral investigations allowing us to shed light on the settlement of the current populations;

- undertake geophysical prospections with a view to determining the extent of various sites;

-  continue interviews with craft practitioners, extending geographically in a first phase southwards into Borgou, then eastwards into Nigeria and ultimately into the Gourmantche area of Burkina Faso.

In the longer term, we are continuing our survey of the literature relating to West African craft specialists and we plan to begin an examination, through museum holdings and historical sources, of the nature and extent of trade in textiles up the Niger River from the Atlantic. A PhD studentship will be advertised in the course of 2012 to consider those areas of research.

08
Dec
11

More radiocarbon dates

We have just received back the result of a fourth date on our main trench at BLaf, complementing the three run earlier this autumn. This fourth date was  from a collection of charcoal fragments, pooled from within the 75-100 cm layers, and it is in good agreement with the other three: after calibration all four dates fall in the seventh to early ninth centuries AD.

This isn’t a time period for which we have much information yet, although we are gtting to know it better thanks to archaeological work in the last 15 years at places such as Marandet, Essouk or Bura (to name just a few). So it is interesting to have this (earlier than expected) result for our site; and we look forward to further work there.

 

14
Nov
11

Being and becoming Hausa

As an aside to the Crossroads project, I am really happy to say that the two UK research councils running the Religion and Society project – the ESRC and the AHRC, namely Economic & Social Research and Arts & Humanities – are funding our new project to engage with schoolchildren in Norwich and Zinder, building on the findings of a project Dr Benedetta R and I ran in 2008, called Being and becoming Hausa.

The idea back in 2008 was to bring researchers together to discuss what it means to be Hausa today, and how this sense of identity and belonging has emerged over time (read it all here). Now, with the aid of teachers at City Academy Norwich and the Lycée Ahmadou Kourandaga in Zinder (Niger), we will be discussing ideas of religion and identity with pupils aged 11-15. We’ll encourage pupils to reflect on two fronts: the way in which their identity is historically constructed, and whether their notions of West Africa are shaped by stereotypes of changeless societies and radical Islamism, often promoted by the media. Specifically, we will think with them about what it means to be Hausa, from the North Earlham estate, from Norwich, from Birni; Muslim, Anglican, atheist – how they feel the media portray them, and what factors shape their sense of self. We want to have a strong historical dimension to all of this, because although today religion plays a major role in defining, and often dividing, communities, the Being and becoming Hausa project showed this is not an historical inevitability.

Ultimately there will be a blog charting our collective learning process, and a teaching resource that we will disseminate to other schools and place on the ESRC’s Social Science for Schools website. The aim is to make a wider impact on the cultural awareness of UK youth by breaking down stereotypes about identity and religion, both in West Africa and in the UK, and to improve pupils’ thinking skills and creative output. Through its cross-curricular slant linked into Key Stage 3 of the recently revised National Curriculum, the project will also support UK schools in implementing an integrated project which will enable students to make links between different subject areas.

This project is part of the efforts by the AHRC and the ESRC to publicise the undeniable impact that research in those fields makes to society today and its contribution to wider knowledge beyond academia.

13
Oct
11

mid-October

Things have been progressing well with the desk-based and management aspects of the project. We have now hired a new postdoctoral researcher and are in the process of purchasing a car for the project. We are gearing up for our first steering meeting for European team members, here at UEA in two weeks’ time. Ali has been preparing maps of the survey sites sampled in our last field season, Carlos is setting his mind to the geophysical analysis of potsherd pavements, Veerle and Paul are turning their minds to the faunal and soils analysis of the Niger Valley sites, Didier is writing about the previous archaeological knowledge of the region, and Olivier has been pondering Sorko fishermen.

The pottery analysis is going well – thank you for the compliments I have received on ‘Sherd of the day’. The simple reason I have not been able to keep up with this lately is that I have been working on the plain sherds, which, all apologies to them, are rather boring. You can look forward to more exciting sherds in the coming weeks when I begin the analysis of the folded strip, twisted cord, incised, appliqué and (always with a frisson of excitement) ‘Other’ categories.

02
Sep
11

babies and research excellence

Some disturbing news from our masters at HEFCE, the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Every 5-6 years, all UK higher education institutions are assessed by HEFCE in a process called the Research Excellence Framework, known to friends as the REF. Each institution has to show how good it has been in producing ground-breaking research, looking after postgraduate students who will produce the ground-breaking research of the future, and making society a better place.

To evaluate their ground-breaking-ness, each academic member of staff has to present up to four ‘outputs’ they produced in the past 5-6 years (book, article, exhibition); these are assessed by a devoted panel of fellow academics, who then grade them, between zero (work that falls  that falls below the standard of nationally recognised work) and four (world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour).  Most people have to produce four such outputs, but people who work part-time or have only just joined the university (early career researchers) are allowed to submit fewer items, given that they are (quite reasonably) assumed to have had less time than their colleagues to research, write and curate exhibits.

So far so good (?) but HEFCE’s latest consultation document throws up some considerable challenges for academics who have the temerity to have children.  It appears to suggest that no allowance will be made for maternity leave in deciding how many items should be submitted by a researcher, unless the leave lasted over 14 months.  See paragraphs 49-56 in the consultation document – especially Para 59 and table 2.
Bearing in mind that very few people are allowed to, want to, or can afford to, take 14 months maternity leave,  women who have had babies in the past 5-6 year REF cycle will have to submit four items like everyone else. The implication here is that they have been able to achieve the same research output as colleagues – which seems pretty ambitious to anyone who has been, or knows someone who has been, pregnant or the parent of infants.

As it stands, the draft proposal would seem to present a seriously discouraging picture to academics, or those who may be thinking of becoming academics. The HEFCE proposal is far out of line with our friends at the ERC, who extend the window of eligibility for their Starter Grants by 18 months per child born; this is thought to reflect the level of disruption to research. It also contrasts dismally with recent efforts made elsewhere, for example to bring in more women onto UK corporate boards, see the 30% club for example. Indeed, the HEFCE proposal is difficult to reconcile with HEFCE’s own aims to “support equality and diversity in research careers” and “encourage institutions to submit all their eligible staff who have produced excellent research” with fewer than four outputs if circumstances “have significantly constrained [staff's] ability to produce four outputs or to work productively throughout the assessment period” (paragraph 47).

The HEFCE document isn’t, however, entirely clear. It notes (paragraph 62) that an alternative approach could be adopted to take account of pregnancy and maternity: that staff who had periods of maternity leave during the REF assessment period may reduce the number of outputs by one for each discrete period of maternity leave, without penalty in the assessment. “This alternative approach is based on the view that each period of maternity leave, and any associated constraints on work, is generally sufficiently disruptive of an individual’s research work to merit the reduction of an output”. That sounds more like it.

My view is that the fairest way to take into account maternity leave would be to allow those who have taken it during the last REF cycle to submit a reduced number of inputs, in line with the reduction allowed to Early Career Researchers (reduction in inputs is in linear relation to  months away from work).

Let HEFCE know what you think of the proposal and its alternative. The consultation is open until 5 October 2011.




About this blog

We are a team of archaeologists, historians and anthropologists studying the Niger Valley where it borders Niger and Bénin (West Africa). We are carrying out new excavations and research to shed more light on the people that inhabited the area in the past 1500 years.

This blog will tell you all about it.

This investigation is funded by the European Research Council as part of the Starting Independent Researcher Programme (Seventh Framework Programme – FP7); it is led by Dr Anne Haour of the University of East Anglia, UK. The opinions posted here are however her own!

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