Archive for the 'Soapbox' Category

30
Mar
17

a50

Here is the statement from the seven national academies of the UK on the day that that UK government set in train the process of leaving the European Union.

Last November, the British Academy provided written evidence to the British Parliament, including an assessment of the impact on UK Higher Education of leaving the EU. Here are a few points taken from that document:

  • The UK is currently underinvesting in research and innovation compared to its main competitors, and European funding makes a significant contribution. This is particularly the case in the humanities and the social sciences; from 2007 to 2015, for example, UK-based researchers in this area won over €626 million (just over a third of all total funding available in the humanities and social sciences) from Starting, Consolidator and Advanced Grants from the European Research Council (ERC). One of those was grants mine, and it made possible all the work in Bénin which you have been reading about in this blog. It probably also helped the Leverhulme Trust decide to award me the grant to work on cowrie shells.
  • A negative rhetoric towards ‘expertise’ has been developing. One famous instance was the justice secretary’s comment that the people of the UK have had enough of experts. The British Academy notes that  “Such rhetoric can create an environment that is understandably perceived as less conducive, less welcoming and more restrictive to academic freedom, enterprise and endeavour. As the UK withdraws from the EU, the higher education sector can ill afford a growing reputation, whether real or perceived, as one that does not acknowledge positively, respect and support academic expertise and scholarship”.
  • Almost 50% of UK academic papers are written with an international partner, of which currently 60% are with EU partners. EU nationals make up 16% of the UK-based academic workforce. The ten higher education institutions that do best in the Research Excellence Framework employ 125% more researchers from non-UK EU countries than the next best ten institutions.
  • EU students are an important part of the university scene. They make up 5.5% of the entire student body; in particular postgraduate research students from non-UK EU countries account for 13.7% of postgrads. The rhetoric on international students has become increasingly divisive and self-defeating for the UK’s position in the world, and its ability to maximise opportunities for able students and staff; a welcoming and cosmopolitan atmosphere is needed to attract overseas students, European or from the rest of the world.
  • The ERC would be a considerable attraction for UK-based researchers to bid for and, if successful, to leave the UK to go somewhere within the EU or an associated country. If the UK came to an agreement with the rest of the EU on EEA status, much of this would be mitigated. The crux of this, however, depends on freedom of movement, which in the current climate appears at best far from certain.

Clearly there are some difficult negotiations ahead for the UK government, and this has been known from some time. If you are interested in more reading along this vein then check out the British Academy’s notes on what they feel should be the UK’s negotiating objectives for the withdrawal from the EU.

 

30
Jan
17

a dark hour

As an American citizen in the UK who, over the past 20 years, has been made a welcome and honoured guest in a range of predominantly Muslim countries – structuring my day around the call to prayer, and building my career with friends and colleagues there – this is a difficult time. The ineptitude of our governments is shaming.

07
Dec
16

gender stereotyping

What I am working on today, as well as cowries: I have been invited by a Careers Adviser to talk at Sprowston High School, a local secondary school, tomorrow.

The purpose is to challenge gender stereotyping for a group of 11-12 year olds – try to get them to look beyond stereotypes they may unknowingly have.

Here are some interesting facts:

Some 22 per cent of professors – 4,415 out of 19,750 in total – were female in 2013-14 compared with just 15 per cent in 2003-04, according to a report by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.
The report, titled Staff in Higher Education 2013-14, which was published on 26 February, also says 45 per cent of the UK’s 194,245 academic staff are women.

A couple of anecdotes are also relevant here. There was the time when my daughter and her friend decided to impersonate a Professor: for them, this involved a long moustache, round glasses and a hunched posture. There was the time when I tried to join a swimming class online and the drop-down menu only allowed the title ‘Professor’ if you had ticked ‘Male’ as your gender. True story!

Related content: here and here.

So, anyway, here I am thinking back to 2012 which is the last time I was put in front of an audience of 11-12 year olds.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

06
Sep
15

migration

In the current climate, we are daily asked by our media to think about what is a migrant. I have had occasion in the past to write posts (for example here and here) alluding to the absurdly negative attitudes to people’s mobility which seem to prevail today amongst the political class.

Well. I am a migrant, and an economic one at that – from Canada to Switzerland to the UK. And a lot of migration in the family before then. Nothing exceptional there: according to some studies almost a quarter of academics in the UK are not from the UK, and some figures appear to place this as high as 40% for UCL, for example.

Migration is central to the history we’re trying to write of Dendi: kings from Gao, praise-singers from the Upper Niger, kola traders from Bornu, they all figure. Who knows – maybe your tin trader from Tripoli or your canoe-builder from the Niger Delta or your cowrie seller from Ari atoll. That’d be nice! Indeed, outsiders and immigrants are everywhere in the African past: rulers show off their foreign descent, traders migrate to new areas, potters and blacksmiths claim to be apart from society.

Migration is also absolutely central to archaeology generally speaking. 25 years ago it was argued that archaeologists were wrong to think that migration is a chaotic and poorly defined phenomenon (and thus a theme that just couldn’t be studied archaeologically). Rather, research in geography, social anthropology, demography, and statistics had shown that migration behaviour is governed by certain rules and therefore liable to be studied and predicted. With the exception of permanent migration, which appears to have in fact been quite rare historically (with some notable exceptions in our deep past), mobility seems to be organised around sustainable networks that can to some extent be predicted. Maybe it need not, therefore, seem so scary.

13
Jul
13

liminal people in the West African past

My book on liminal people is almost out. A preview is available on Google Books, where you can read part of chapter 1 (and, somewhat oddly, the last page of the index, which runs from ‘trade diasporas’ to ‘Zuwa Alayman, ‘Yemenite’  immigrant ruler and killer of a monster fish-god in the Niger River. With a ring in its nose).

DSC_8521

Basically the book is about people who don’t fit in. Archaeologists are increasingly trying to identify individuals in the material record of the past – a tough job but one which I argue might be easier if we try to look not at what people are, but what they aren’t. When a person is of, but not in, society – with thanks to John M for that phrase.

The fact is that outsiders and immigrants can be found everywhere in the West African past: rulers show off their foreign descent, traders migrate  new areas, potters and blacksmiths claim to be apart from society.

I talk a bit about this too in my Afriques paper which is largely about migrants. I started thinking about these sorts of things maybe about 17 years ago and then it all came together one day in March 2009 when I was on a bus from Comacchio then Schiphol Airport. I have posted several things in the past two years about outsiders and about how writing was going. So, it’s nice to see the process come full circle. Only very short-sighted political thinking would fail to realise the importance of immigrants’ skills and know-how.

But anyway, now I want to think a bit more about cin rani – dry season migration in the Hausa world – and worlds of experience, in the hope that this is the angle which will help us archaeologists ‘see’ the individual’s experience in the material record. Ali, Olivier and I have been talking about writing something about this together and our first challenge is definitely to see how we can make the ethnography significant to the archaeology; and vice-versa. Work in progress.

06
Dec
12

research austerity 2

An update on my earlier post.

The petition “no cuts on research” now stands at over 150000 signatures. On 15 November a delegation led by Nobel laureates met the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy and the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso, to urge EU leaders to secure the future budget for Horizon 2020, the European innovation and research programme to run from 2014 to 2020.

A bit of background: Horizon 2020 had been announced on 30 November 2011 by Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science Máire Geoghegan-Quinn as a package of measures to boost research, innovation and competitiveness in Europe.  The proposed budget for the programme was €80 billion, including an increase in funding of 77% for the very successful European Research Council (ERC). The proposal then had to be discussed by the Council and the European Parliament, with a view to adoption before the end of 2013.

Back to the present… – the meetings to discuss this and other budgets was held on 22-23 November 2012 in Brussels. But European leaders walked away from the table without a deal on the European budget for the rest of the decade. “With 27 nations each pushing for their own priorities, finding an agreement on spending plans is inevitably complex, and the tight economic climate aggravated the differences even more than usual”, notes a recent editorial of Nature, commenting that the Horizon 2020 research programme comes out among the worst of the cuts proposed by Herman Van Rompuy, with a suggested 12% reduction in funding. Helga Nowotny, president of the ERC since March 2010, likewise sees a bleak future for the council under the Van Rompuy proposals.

The decision on the EU budget is now delayed until the beginning of 2013.

25
Oct
12

Research austerity

The summit of the EU heads of states on 22-23 November will be a decisive step in determining the EU research budget for the next seven years. At a time when Brussels is calling for the 27-member bloc to slash public spending, a number of national capitals are responding that if they need to tighten their belts, the EU needs to as well. The proposed €90 billion in funding for the union’s flagship seven-year research programme, Horizon 2020, will be one of the items considered at the summit.

Keen readers will recall my post dealing with the ERC position paper in July 2011:

The paper ends with the remark that “while the ERC is currently covering a much wider area of frontier research than the US National Science Foundation (NSF), its current annual budget is less than half of the funds dispersed towards research grants by the latter in 2010, representing a small percentage of EU annual public research expenditure.” The report thus argues for a doubling of the ERC’s annual budget, to a level of around €4bn per year. of course, I write this on the day that the eurozone’s big banks meet to refine their plans for a second bailout of Greece, so maybe things are not looking too likely.

Cambridge Classicist Mary Beard notes that she has “moved from a degree of uncertainty about this Euro Research Enterprise to being a huge supporter of it. (Thank God for the EU whose reaction the recession is to plough money into research, not take money away from it.)”

Now then is the time when the scientific community should act together and make our case to protect research funding, including that of the European Research Council (ERC), from cuts. An open letter signed by European Nobel Laureates has been published today this week in Nature, Le Monde and other European media.

An online petition has been launched to caution against cuts to the  2014–2020 EU research budget.

The Young Academy of Europe, founded by ERC Starting Grants holders to represent the “next generation of research leaders in Europe”, pointed out when the petition was launched two days ago that “the largest petition for a scientific cause in Europe in the past was signed by less than 30 000 scientists – compared to the hundreds of thousands of signatures on petitions from other groups of society”.

Cheeringly, 26 493 people have signed just in the last 24 hours…  55 689 have signed in total, and a quick scan shows that within the UK it is Cambridge, Edinburgh, London, Manchester, Norwich and Oxford who are leading the movement.




About this blog

This blog has been set up to chart the activities and research findings of two projects led by Anne Haour, an archaeologist from the Sainsbury Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom.

The first project, called Crossroads, brings together a team of archaeologists, historians and anthropologists studying the Niger Valley where it borders Niger and Bénin (West Africa). We are hoping to shed more light on the people that inhabited the area in the past 1500 years and to understand how population movements and craft techniques shaped the area's past.

The second project, called Cowries, examines the money cowrie, a shell which served as currency, ritual object and ornament across the world for millennia, and in medieval times most especially in the Maldive Islands of the Indian Ocean and the Sahelian regions of West Africa. We hope to understand how this shell was sourced and used in those two areas.

These investigations are funded by the European Research Council as part of the Starting Independent Researcher Programme (Seventh Framework Programme – FP7) and by the Leverhulme Trust as a Research Project Grant. The opinions posted here are however Anne Haour's own!

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