RESCUE – The British Archaeological Trust is pleased to offer broad support to the proposal for the development of a UK-wide research strategy for the historic environment. There are clearly many issues which will benefit from a nationwide approach and it would seem likely that economies of scale will result from such an approach. Perhaps more importantly there are research themes which require tackling at this scale rather than at the scale of the devolved polities constituting the United Kingdom. RESCUE offers the following comments on the outline document (Fidler 2005) in a positive spirit. The comments made below relate specifically to archaeology but in some cases may be more widely applicable. The comments arise from the seven bullet points outlined in section 6 of the outline document and are numbered accordingly.
Response to section 6 Point 1: There is a need to involve the period and subject study groups and special interest groups in the ‘refreshment’ of the research frameworks. These groups, whose memberships cover a very wide range of the components of the archaeological sector, are in the unique position of being engaged on a day-to-day basis with the data which constitute the archaeology of the United Kingdom. RESCUE would urge that every effort is made to involve these groups at the earliest stage of the process and to take full account of the views expressed by their members.
Point 3: The concordat agreed between English Heritage and the AHRC is most welcome and there is no doubt that the theme of ‘Landscape and Environment’ will be of very great interest to many practitioners within archaeology. RESCUE would suggest that there is a need for further close liaison between English Heritage and the AHRC on a variety of other topics, specifically those involving material culture, a core area of archaeological research. British universities have attracted a considerable measure of criticism within the archaeological community for their acceptance of the RAE guidelines which grant greater status and prestige to research carried out abroad, in contrast to research on British material. RESCUE would urge English Heritage to use the contacts with the AHRC (and similar bodies) to try to reverse this policy. Better liaison between the university sector, English Heritage and commercial archaeology are essential if the potential offered by ongoing technical and philosophical developments within archaeology and allied disciplines are to contribute to the continued improvements to the understanding and interpretation of the data which constitutes the archaeological record.
Point 5: RESCUE recognises the contribution being made by the UK Historic Environment Research Group (UKHERG) but notes that there appears to be no mechanism to give a voice to those within the commercial sector who are carrying out research, whether this is in the form of developer-funded investigations or privately by individuals working within the commercial sector who have no access to funding from either the public or private sector.
While the expertise represented by the members of the UKHERG cannot be questioned (‘non-departmental public bodies, agencies and charities’), it is notable that other major elements of the archaeological sector are not represented in this list, most notably those involved with research into material culture in its many and diverse aspects. RESCUE would argue for the rectification of this apparent omission in order to give a voice to one of the most dynamic and innovative areas of the archaeological sector.
Point 6: RESCUE welcomes the establishment of the Historic Environment Research Meeting and the opportunity that this will offer for improved communication between participants. Having said this, RESCUE notes the narrow membership of the Meeting and the absence of any role for the many period and regional study groups or the many archaeological practitioners who now work in the commercial sector (there being no practical alternative to this for most archaeological practitioners). The impression is of a group that will act (albeit unwittingly) to exacerbate the current move towards two-tier archaeology with an elite group (English Heritage and the academic research bodies) and an unrepresented but growing body of professionals within the commercial field whose work is expected to be devoid of any research element. As we shall outline in greater detail in our response to the English Heritage Research Strategy (English Heritage 2005), we believe that research lies at the core of any effective, dynamic archaeological sector and that efforts should be made to overcome the schisms that have developed in the profession / discipline since the adoption of a commercial framework for practice in archaeology. We would urge English Heritage to take a lead in reconnecting the disparate parts of the profession / discipline through a restatement of the essential place of research within archaeology and archaeological practice. We also look to English Heritage to take a lead in providing support for those in the commercial sector who are currently isolated from the resources necessary to undertake effective research.
RESCUE notes that Point 6 appears to break off in mid sentence, raising the question of where the argument in this section was leading.
Two specific questions were posed on the response form handed out at the launch of the 2005 – 2010 Research Strategy and these will be addressed here, although there may be some overlap with the points made above:
3. Who should be involved in the development of the UK-wide Strategy?
RESCUE would urge the widest possible involvement in the Strategy. As a minimum this should include the many diverse study groups and special interest groups including those which are material based (such as the pottery study groups, Lithic Studies Group etc), and period-based (Prehistoric Society, Society for Medieval Archaeology, Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology etc) as well as those with more general interests (such as the Society of Antiquaries). This will ensure ‘grass roots’ involvement in the formulation of the Strategy and will contribute to its effectiveness and its inclusiveness, the latter an important factor in a profession / discipline which derives much of its effectiveness and value from the breadth of interests and skills of its practitioners.
4. What issues should the UK-wide Strategy address?
It is far from clear whether this question is intended to produce a detailed answer setting out specific research themes or whether some more general statements are expected. There are so many and so varied a range of potential research questions facing archaeology that it would be impossible to list them comprehensively in a brief response such as this. We assume therefore that this is not a request for a detailed research agenda for British archaeology as a whole but for general lines of enquiry which might have wide applicability.
At the general, strategic, level RESCUE is concerned (as noted above) that archaeology is becoming a divided discipline, even at a time when the notion of ‘Historic Environment’ should serve as an integrative structuring principle within the discipline. We note particularly the growing divide between commercial archaeology (specifically the consultancy sector) with its disavowal of the significance of research (paradoxically, even while those carrying out fieldwork within the commercial sector are involved, de facto, in research, albeit of a limited and restricted nature) and the need to undertake innovative and original research in order to inform the efforts of the museum and educational sectors of the discipline as well as to contribute to the intellectual growth of the discipline as a whole. RESCUE is extremely concerned that the nature of archaeology both generally as a social practice and specifically as a method of investigating aspects of the past, is not understood within government or even within some of the agencies that are instrumental in delivering funding to the discipline. We are particularly concerned that this lack of understanding has a direct effect on the funding of archaeological projects and that research is disadvantaged in relation to (for example) education and public access. We believe that it is necessary that the fundamental nature of research be re-established; without research there is no basis for interpretation, presentation or the formulation of educational strategies based upon archaeological material. Such research requires adequate funding and the establishment of structures which reflect this fact. We look for this elementary point to be conveyed to those to whom it should be of central
concern.In the light of these points, RESCUE will look for a strategy to be delivered which addresses such concerns and sets out in unequivocal terms the importance of adequately funded research on existing and new archaeological collections, data and archives and identifies funding and resources appropriate for this task.
At the more specific level, we suggest the following themes as examples of the kind of approach which might have both social and political relevance but which are also be based upon the kind of critical, innovative and practical archaeological research that British archaeologists have excelled in over the last twenty-five to thirty years:
Archaeologies of inhabitation: An approach to the built environment which moves away from the self-referential arcana of traditional architectural studies and approaches the built environment as an arena within which human beings live and interact (thus drawing on themes developed in landscape archaeology which will, we assume, play a significant part in the EH / AHRC ‘Landscape and Environment’ research theme). An archaeological approach to the inhabitation of the built environment should focus on material culture at all scales from the structures of buildings, the created land- and townscapes within which they exist and as far as the deployment of portable material culture which plays such a large part in the creation of cultural meaning within constructed
spaces.We see this as a highly significant theme, given the very evident need to reconnect the increasingly disparate elements within archaeology and, with specific reference to the unresolved tensions between the fields of built and buried archaeology.
The archaeology of global transformation: While we would not advocate the unthinking pursuit of cultural and political fashions, it is clear that there is an increasing interest in (and political concern with) the process of globalisation and with the social transformations that are entailed in this process. We would suggest that archaeology has a good deal to offer both in relation to the growth of the European empires from the 16th century onwards and also with reference to other examples of human social and economic expansion. There will clearly be a great deal of effort focussed on the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in 2007 and amongst the archaeological responses to this should be the establishment of the broader context within which the African / New World slave trade arose, flourished and was ultimately abolished. There is a clear danger that popular initiatives and educational programmes will offer superficial accounts of the slave trade and associated activities, largely divorced from the broader global context. Archaeology has the potential to correct such perspectives by emphasising the transformative nature of the large scale social and technological changes that characterised the post-medieval and early modern periods. A considerable amount of effort in post-medieval and historical archaeology is currently focussed on these subjects and it would be appropriate for the Strategy to assess the range and scope of such work during 2006 with the object with the intention of contributing to informed debate around these matters.
Bibliography English Heritage 2005 Discovering the past, shaping the future: Research Strategy 2005 –
2010. English Heritage.
Fidler, J. 2005 A proposal to develop a UK-wide research strategy for the historic environment and its sustainable management English Heritage.
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