Questions and controversy

Is this a good idea?

I’m sure that this is not the usual way for a PhD student to start out; questioning the worthiness of one’s project (I’m told that is supposed to happen in the middle of a depression next year) however I questioned the project even before I went for interview.

This was an advertised position, I wanted a new job, saw a funded PhD studentship in an area that I have experience in and applied.  As part of the application process I could see all sorts of holes in the project and therefore when selected for interview I took a list of questions with me.  Most of these were satisfactorily answered and the rest I saw as a challenge, so when offered the position I accepted.  Some of these challenges I’ll be addressing in this blog but to start with I’m going to head off some of the questions you might have.

What is the project?

The title of the studentship is ‘Perceptions of Prehistory: Community Archaeology & the South Dorset Ridgeway’.  This means that my research will be focused on investigating the prehistoric archaeology of the South Dorset Ridgeway and the role and significance of community engagement in its subsequent management and understanding. Does that make it any clearer?  Its a wide focus at the moment, I’ll check in with this blog over the coming months as I work it all out.

How is it funded?

My supervisor, John Gale, saw an opportunity for funding in the form of a Heritage Lottery Landscape project.  In order to get enough money to make an impact/be able to do the research properly/ have some academic support he had to convince the University of Bournemouth to part fund; the only way for this to happen was through a PhD studentship.  It couldn’t be run as a proper project. Did this go against my ethos as a professional? Should I accept something that is not a proper salary?  Will I be a form of cheap labour?  I decided that this was not the case.  Although I was a fully paid archaeologist before my take home income would not actually be reduced and I will get pretty good qualification out of the project.

‘The HLF are not supposed to fund academic research’, I hear you ask.  The short answer to this one is that they are not, they are funding the research into community archaeology, Bournemouth University is funding the academic part of things, the South Dorset Ridgeway.

But the PhD could not have happened without the HLF, is this using Community Archaeology to do our work for us?  Is part of my PhD going to be getting communities involved in gaining archaeological knowledge?  I expect that will happen but I also hope that this will educate them and help to preserve & promote the archaeology.   Without support archaeology will never function as a funded discipline, but this is a fine balance to play.  Is this going to be a result of my PhD, finding this balance?  Encouraging a local community without doing myself out of a job?

I’ve asked lots of questions, in your answers, if you have any, please try to remember that this blog is eventually going to be aimed at both other archaeologists and the community of the South Dorset Ridgeway (whatever that is going to be!)  I’m hoping I’ll find some answers in the next three years.  Wish me luck!

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