Archive | May, 2021

Archaeology at the University of Sheffield Under Threat

20 May

There is much to say and much too little time to say it all in, so let me cut to the quick – the world-class archaeology department at the University of Sheffield is at risk of closure and the staff at risk of redundancy. The results of a recent departmental review by the University of Sheffield is due Tuesday 25th May, along with a vote by the University Executive Board on the future of the department.

I found this out last night as a friend alerted me to the following screenshot:

I was guided also to the Save Sheffield Archaeology, which has further details on the departmental review and the importance of the archaeology department to the city and the academic community internationally. Most importantly it is the jobs that are at risk – the academic, postdocs, researchers and administrative staff, who all potentially face the risk of redundancy. As far as I currently understand the department itself is still fragmented physically as both lectures and staff are based across the University of Sheffield departments as the archaeology building itself is (or has been) undergoing much-needed structural repairs. Despite this, and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, teaching and research have still continued and student support has still been given.

You can help by reading the links below, searching out what other people and saying and what Saving Sheffield Archaeology are advising. If you are an archaeologist or know the department in any way – used to work there, studied there, are affiliated with it in any way, etc. – and are concerned for its future as I am, then please do sign the Change.org petition, email the VC and the University Executive Board, and make your voice known.

The decision on the future of the archaeology department at the University of Sheffield will be made on Tuesday 25th May. Stay tuned.

Bigger Issues

Readers of my blog will know that I attended the University of Sheffield in 2011-12 to study for my MSc in Human Osteology and Funerary Archaeology and reveled in the teaching, research and personal development opportunities that the course offered. I have friends who have studied there since and remain affiliated with the department. I am worried, I am concerned, and I will be writing to the VC and the University Executive Board with my concerns at their reviews and the three stated options available to it. I am deeply concerned at what appears to be an unforced and perhaps manufactured issue in staffing (not replacing retiring staff, which has seen current teaching staff drop from 29 to 11) and the longer-term trends of higher education being pulled in two different directions – between the demands of the market and the demands of providing, and supplying, quality education for all and the benefits of this for society and the economy. A third pressure has also made itself know in recent years at the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland wrestles control with its own myriad of identities.

HM Government have recently announced that it is considering cutting high-cost teaching supplement for undergraduate arts and archaeology courses by up to 50% in favour of more funding for STEM subjects, this along with the Government’s stated aim of simplifying planning permissions to encourage house building and infrastructure projects, puts archaeology and the archaeological record at possible risk as statutory consents are sidelined. Conversely the archaeology jobs sector has rarely been busier, with many major projects ongoing utilizing a range of archaeological specialisms, from drone operators to archaeological geomatics, from field staff to human osteologists, etc. One only needs to think of HS2 or Crossrail or road infrastructures projects in eastern England to think of how many archaeologists are currently employed in varying roles and positions. In fact archaeologists are on the Skilled Worker visa: shortage occupations for April 2021, the only social and humanities scientists category to make it.

It is a worrying time for ease of access to archaeological courses in higher education, as tuition fees remain high and are climbing for postgraduate study and research. One effect of Brexit is the annulment of EU fees category remaining the same as home fees for students and instead becoming aligned with international fees. This has a severe impact for those nearest and dearest European neighbours. For instance the 2021 MSc in Human Osteology and Funerary Archaeology tuition fee at the University of Sheffield is now priced at £11,000 for home students and £23,250 for overseas students. This is a staggering sum for higher education and one well out of the reach for many. I raise this point as archaeology in particular has a strong pull for bringing together international students and researchers, and Sheffield’s department is well known for its ties across Europe and the wider world. Fees such as this are just one more barrier to cross.

Archaeology as a topic unto itself is broad, welcoming and diverse – whoever and wherever you are, you too came from somewhere and within that is the story of ultimately both your past and mine. Archaeology is the investigation into the great human story and the department at Sheffield is one such place where we can view it. How sad it would be to see a portal on the past close.

How to Help

Housekeeping Notes: Blog Address

11 May

It has been nearly a year since I last updated the blog with a post and it has been quiet on the site generally for the past two years.  Partly this has been a choice as I have become more involved with my current role and due to other personal reasons.  One of the main reasons though was the feeling of disenchantment I felt with the outcome of a blog change that I had made – if you would pardon me an indulgent housekeeping blog, I’ll explain below. 

A Note on the Blog Address

Back in March 2019 I decided to update the blog’s address by upgrading my WordPress website package and moving the site to a .com address and to also allow advertising that could be monetised.  I’d been blogging for 8 years by that point (since March 2011 in fact) and I was confident that the daily number of views/hits and subscribers could lead to some minor earning potential.  As noted previously, writing a blog can take a significant chunk of time out of your week when having to research potential topics, produce posts, edit posts, and contacting guest bloggers to develop ideas and future posts together.  Editing and blog organisation are also ongoing background tasks undertaken to ensure that certain style (grammar/layout) or standards (bibliographic, etc.) are met, and previous entries cleaned up and re-edited as necessary.  So I thought using the automated ads feature provided in the upgrade package could be a good way to recuperate that cost, as represented by my time investment and labour.

I was quite prepared for it to be a meager sum having researched online for what to expect as there was little information on the WordPress/Ad company site as to how much exactly the company pay and how the algorithm decided how much they pay (whether by ad impressions/views/interactivity, etc.).  What I was not quite prepared for though was the dramatic daily drop in the number of daily blog visitors/views, despite carrying out every precaution to ensure a smooth transition between the WordPress.com address to a .com one as advised.

The weekly figures for weekly views clearly shows the impact of upgrading the site from March 2019 and how suppressed the views have been since then. The latest full month is for December 2020, with a total of 2,816 views and 1,969 visitors. By comparison the highest blue bar on the left represents October 2018 with 25,057 views (and a lower number of visitors in darker blue). The pattern continues today since changing it back, but should change with regular blogging. Click to enlarge the image.

I took a few looks over the initial months following the change in blog address and saw no obvious reason as to why the sustained drop in views/visitors should be happening and I contacted the company.  Despite going on to contact WordPress a number of times regarding the sustained drop, and being reassured it would recover within a few weeks each time I contacted them (and that gap lengthening each time I asked), I never quite received a clear answer as to why my site was receiving substantially less views.  This frustrated me and after the eighth attempt at explaining the drop and trying to elicit a clear answer I stopped as it was clear no answer would be forthcoming.

Of course the income from the ads monetisation was non-existent and I never met the bar set to have any money ever transferred (you have to ‘earn’ $100 before any money is transferred – I am/was currently at less than 10% of that).  After a number of months I turned off the ads from the site in minor disgust at both the adverts themselves and the pitiful sum raised (and which I couldn’t access anyway).  I hate to admit it but over the past year and a half I have become less enamoured of logging onto the site as I became demotivated from seeing that the views had dropped by up to 80% of previous years.  Ultimately I largely stopped producing posts as other issues became more important in my life.  And the world fundamentally changed with the advent of Covid-19.

An evergreen favourite cartoon – the perils of a blog as a time sink and the clash of real life. On a side note I highly recommend helping to crowdfund Mr Lovenstein’s new book. Image source: Mr Lovenstein.

However, there is a plus side to this – I think it reinforced in my own mind the reasons for starting the blog in the first place.  It wasn’t as a place to earn money (though frankly that would be quite nice, it isn’t essential thankfully), and really I get out of it what I put into the site itself.  Thinking long term, I would rather this site remained accessible and readable rather than it disappear following a missed payment for a .com address.  As such I recently changed my blog address back to thesebonesofmine.wordpress.com and hopefully it should stay that way as I am not renewing the upgraded package.

Granted, this has been a bit of a boring entry but I thought it was best to let readers know that I am still active and that I still will be producing posts for this site at some point in the very near future.  I’m still passionate about human osteology and the intricate details kept within our skeletal system, and the value of archaeology as humanity’s combined story.  In fact there are over 12 draft blogging entries in varying states of readiness, but as an old joke goes I could never quite match how productive one Robert M Chapple is, despite his protestations to the opposite!  So if you need an archaeology fix before These Bones of Mine’s next update, why not head over to Robert’s site and discover a great archaeological blogger?