Archive for the 'Soapbox' Category

11
Jul
17

accra, 11 july

Busy but productive times here at the University of Ghana.

 

Attending talks. Here, insights into the disastrous effect of jihadi occupation on the heritage and tourist industry in Timbuktu, and in Mali more generally. Malian colleagues outlined the work done to investigate, study and repair the mosque and mausolea torn down in 2012.

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Catching up with friends and colleagues; trading books, cowries and pots.

 

 

And still scouring the storerooms for shells!

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26
May
17

more worrying news for UK research

The Royal Society reports on disciplines most dependent on EU funding. This is a new report commissioned by the UK’s four national academies (which include the British Academy: see my earlier post here). It has analysed the latest available figures (2014-2015) available from the Higher Education Statistics Authority.

It confirms what we all knew, but it is actually worse than I had realised. Natural and physical sciences and engineering dominate in absolute numbers; clinical medicine, for example, received £120 million in 2014-2015. The Royal Society remarks with typical restraint that “Given the high numbers, [such] fields may find it challenging to replace this income from other sources if the UK no longer had access to EU funds”.

Last year twenty colleagues and I wrote to Theresa May to raise some of these concerns. Never got a reply beyond a short email from her office saying they are considering the matter. I am sure they have plenty more fish to fry, of course. Various sectors will be pleading for a slice of income now that the EU source is looking like it will be turned off.

Back to the report. 68 pages long, it gives a wealth of detail about the differences across sectors and disciplines in reliance on European funding. Archaeology is particularly exposed: 38% of its research funding comes from EU government bodies. In fact archaeology warrants a box feature (page 39) discussing this. “This increasing dependency on EU funding can be in part explained by the availability of and success of UK-based archaeologists in winning competitive ERC funding, which was launched in 2007 under FP7. ERC grants are unique to the discipline because of the size of the grants (enabling sufficient funding for the salary of academics working at different career stages), the length of the grants, and the collaborative nature of the funding. The ERC grants enable collaboration and teamwork that helps advance research. For Archaeology, there are no other sources of multiannual funding of this magnitude available.”

“[The EU’s] Horizon 2020 in turn is unique, and is the only international research and innovation programme of scale anywhere in the world. Other international research programmes are orders of magnitude smaller and often more narrowly based geographically and/or thematically”. I wrote something about this a few years back. And here.  And here and here for some votes of thanks to the EU.

‘Challenging’ doesn’t begin to cover it. I might use a stronger word…

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.

 

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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).

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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.




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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