Funding allows historians and archaeologists to tackle past puzzles

Posted on 5th September 2011

Archaeologists and historians from the University of Chester seem to have the Midas touch as a third research bid this year has been successful – this time to the tune of more than €1.2 million*.

Dr Keith McLay, Head of History and Archaeology; Archaeology PhD student Ruth Nugent; Professor Howard Williams.
Dr Keith McLay, Head of History and Archaeology; Archaeology PhD student Ruth Nugent; Professor Howard Williams.
The Department of History and Archaeology has proved to be to the fore in attracting research funding.
Dr Keith McLay

The Department of History and Archaeology has announced that the European Research Council (ERC) has awarded this significant grant – to be shared with the University of Exeter – for an exciting new project that will explore the changing significance of memory in medieval and modern England and Wales.

Professor Howard Williams will be the project’s archaeologist, joining a team of academics led by Professor Philip Schwyzer, an expert in Renaissance literature and Head of English at the University of Exeter.

The project, titled ‘The Past in its Place: Histories of Memory in English and Welsh Locales’, aims to delve into archaeological, historical and literary perspectives of memory by exploring churches, ancient monuments and distinctive local landscapes.

Professor Williams says: “This five-year project will explore the ‘history of memory’ in a range of English and Welsh locales. We will investigate change and continuity in the ways individuals and communities have imagined, appropriated, and reinvented the past.

“The project is particularly exciting for being truly trans-disciplinary. In this work, archaeology will be used to reveal not only what people did in the past, but how they perceived their own histories and mythologies in buildings, monuments and the landscape.”

Chester’s share of the grant should fund research leave and the appointment of a three-year post-doctoral researcher.

This research grant follows on the back of two highly successful bids from within the Department over the past academic year.

In February, Professor Williams was awarded a £200,000 Leverhulme Trust research grant for another joint project with Philip Schwyzer, called ‘Speaking with the Dead: Histories of Memory in English Sacred Space’. Ruth Nugent (pictured) will be studying for a PhD on the archaeology of burial and commemoration in and around cathedrals, funded by this project.

That inter-disciplinary project investigated commemoration in five English cathedrals – including Chester – and included a fully-funded PhD studentship for the University of Chester.

More recently Dr Tim Grady, Lecturer in History and Archaeology, has received almost £3,000** from the British Academy’s highly competitive Small Research Grants’ scheme for an on-going research project on the history of the shared environment between West and East Germany.

Cash for questions Dr Tim Grady

Dr Grady, pictured right, explained: “After the Second World War, Germany quickly divided into two separate, ideologically opposed states, communist East Germany and capitalist West Germany. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain and the dissolution of the East German state in 1989/90, historians have become increasingly interested in tracing how the two Germanys related to each other during the long period of division.

“For a long time, the focus was on separation, division and isolation. However, there has been a growing realisation that people in the two German states must have had some, if at times very limited, contact with one another.

“My project, which is still very much in its infancy, explores one particular area in which the two states were forced to interact. That is through the natural environment.

“Despite being divided by a fortified border and the wall in Berlin, the two German states still shared certain natural features, such as rivers and forests. The fact that that these often straddled the frontier meant that Germans on both sides of the border had to interact with one another as the actions of one side could have a detrimental effect on the other.”

Dr Keith McLay, Head of History and Archaeology, said: “We are delighted that the Department has been so successful in winning these research grants. Awards from the British Academy are especially difficult to obtain and the ERC grant is a significant amount of money that will allow new research to take place.

“The Department of History and Archaeology has proved to be to the fore in attracting research funding; this success has surely contributed to the 400% increase in the number of postgraduate students studying within the Department since 2007.”

Professor Robert Warner, Dean of Humanities, said: “These impressive successes in research funding demonstrate that History and Archaeology at Chester have achieved national and international recognition as growing centres of research excellence.

“Our Faculty policy is that undergraduates are regularly taught by leading researchers who are also enthusiastically dedicated to their students. That’s why student satisfaction levels are so high, and there is growing demand for places on our programmes.”

* The full amount granted by the European Research Council is €1,261,625 – equivalent to approx. £1.1million (correct at time of publication.
** The full amount granted from the British Academy is £2,920.