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The Value of CARA & Scholars At Risk Network

7 Jan

In the December entry for the blogging carnival (the good, bad and ugly of archaeology blogging) I mentioned the Scholars At Risk Network, after learning about the network from Sam Hardy over at [Un]Free Archaeology.  As a direct result of my mention of them in my blog post another great blogger, Loretta Kilroe, brought to my attention CARA, the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics.

I think it is time to dig a bit deeper to highlight these two fantastic organisations in the work that they do and why they are needed.  Too often in the online blogging community we espouse the knowledge of others and thank the wonders of the internet for bringing everyone together when only an estimated 34-39% of the earth’s population have access to the internet.  We have to realize that many academics today still face being severely curtailed in pursing their research topics or face other consequences (imprisonment/torture) because of political oppression, rife censorship or imposed sanctions in variety of countries world wide.

CARA

CARA’s underlining approach and mission statement is simple:

“Academic Freedom is the principle which underpins and informs CARA’s work defending the right of individuals to explore the world of ideas, literature and science unfettered by political, social or religious oppression, censorship, or sanction” (Source).

Cara

The banner of the CARA site highlighting one issue that often stops refugees (Image credit: source).

The council was originally founded in 1933 by William Beveridge to assist other scholars after he learnt of the displacement of academics from Nazi Germany on racial and/or political grounds and subsequently launched a rescue operation.  The organisation continued to grow throughout the next 70 years, helping out academics not just during the Second World War but also during the repressive Stalinist period in Russia, the unrest in the Middle East and throughout the South African Apartheid period.  Today it’s focus has shifted towards the Middle East, with a particular focus on Iraq, and to certain areas of the African continent.  Although not initially called CARA, the organisation changed it’s name in 1999 to it’s present name as a reflection of it’s world wide operational basis.

CARA are currently running three programmes at the moment in the UK, the Middle East and Zimbabwe.  The United Kingdom program offers, and provides, assistance to “enable persecuted academics  many of whom are refugees and asylum seekers, to return to academia or an allied profession in the UK at a level commensurate with their skills and experience” (source).  The Middle East program is centered on Iraq and Syria, helping academics that have either settled in the UK as a result of conflict or those that are still living in Syria or Iraq.  The Iraq program was launched in 2006 as a direct result of the rise in kidnappings of academics in the country and the continued killings of civilians in the country.  The Syria program was founded as a result of the grim situation that has developed in the country over the past two years.

CARA is helping academics both in Syria, and those that have fled to the surrounding countries and the UK, by providing practical advice on survival and academic help.  The Zimbabwe program was set up in 2009 in response to the flood of academics feeling the country.  Importantly the program also aims to stifle the dramatic decline in quality of the higher education in the country, where it can.  A number of reports on these programs, and others conducted by the organisation, can be found on the CARA site.

Scholars At Risk Network

Scholars at Risk Network (SAR) hold much the same values as CARA in the belief that their work is grounded in the principle of academic freedom, that is the freedom to pursue academic research without fear of censorship, intimidation, fear of violence or of discrimination.  The network organisation has its initial roots in the Human Rights program at the University of Chicago in 1999, and it quickly grew to join other international education and academic advocacy groups within a few short years of its founding.

In particular the SAR network has joined forces with the Institute for International Education in helping to offer an endowed rescue fund to help scholars and academics who are in perilous situations.  Moving it’s base to New York University in 2003, SAR has continued to provide funds for scholars as well as participating in a broad range of advocacy work in centers across the world.  This has been reinforced by SAR developing partner networks across Europe, the Middle East and Africa during the last decade or so.  Further information on SAR’s history can be found here.

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Personal freedom is often underrated until you realise what it is like being able to freely express yourself (Image credit: source).

SAR’s first and foremost task is protecting scholars by arranging positions of sanctuary and safety, often offered as one semester or one year long positions as academic posts at host universities.  Further to this, the network also runs a Scholars-In-Prison project designed to protect scholars who are unable to leave their home countries, as well as keeping an active up -to-date record on attacks and widespread threats to individuals, departments and institutions.  Secondly, the SAR network runs workshops and training sessions as a part of its active outreach work, as well as circulating monitor reports highlighting the recent developments in the root causes of intellectual repression.  Find out more here.

Why Is It Important?

It is vitally important to always resist the powers that seek to limit the intellectual and individual freedom.  Knowledge, invention and imagination are the three crucial foundations for thought that are expressed in higher education and the academic environment.  The persecution, suppression or imprisonment of academics happens for a variety of reasons and I must point out here that I do no ignore the general population at the expense of the academic.  Rather it is due to my passion and experience of higher education that I have wrote about CARA and the SAR network, that this blog is, for me, the ideal venue to help raise awareness of these two fantastic organisations.  Sadly these organisations are necessary in the modern world, very necessary.

The world of higher education is a wonderfully mixed and diverse one where no two people are ever the same and may have strong views and opinions.  It is, like archaeology itself, a very fluid environment in which individuals come and go.  Universities have the strong focused economic base in the areas where they are situated but they operate in a myriad of professional and social entanglements, often crossing borders around the world with research projects, societies and professional links.  If one scholar cannot offer a hand to another in need then that is a very sad world indeed, especially when the binding force of academia is co-operation.

…And Introducing Médecins Sans Frontiéres

Further to the above two organisations that support academics in need I would also heartily recommend supporting Médecins Sans Frontiéres (MSF, otherwise known as Doctors Without Borders).  Established in 1971 and currently working in over 60 countries worldwide, Médecins Sans Frontiéres has provided medical aid to millions of people during its history whilst remaining an independent organisation which is run and and owned by staff both present and past.  With over 90% of its income coming from individual donors MSF maintains the ability to be an neutral and independent organisation, able to help sick and injured people worldwide independent of national boundaries, institutions or governments regardless of gender, race or religion.  It is also a transparent worldwide organisation, which is split into a number of associations and sections.

The organisation works in a variety of crisis environments (including armed conflicts, epidemics and disease outbreaks, environmental disasters, exodus of refugees or helping people who are excluded from healthcare) by helping to establish centers of treatment.  In a number of cases they have to be clandestine operations to protect the patients and MSF staff from harm and violence in unstable environments, such as in Syria currently for example.

Further to this MSF also carry out medical research to help produce the best results for helping their patients and to help future humanitarian missions.  As a part of this they allow the research produced to be freely accessible to anyone.  I personally have supported this charity in the past (and continue to when I can) because I cannot imagine what my life would be like if the medical facilities for treating my previous fractures were non-existent: I realise I am lucky to have access to such good healthcare.  In short it is also my way of saying thank you.  You can also donate or apply to join MSF during operations if you have a medical background.  You can support MSF here!

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Blogging Archaeology: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

24 Dec

This is the second entry in a blogging carnival that Doug, of Doug’s Archaeology, started back in November.  Just to recap the whole idea of this blog carnival was started by Doug after he saw that the Society for American Archaeology are having their 79th annual conference in Austin, Texas, in April 2014.  Doug specifically noticed that they are including a session on the rise of blogging in archaeology and since he cannot be there himself he thought it was pertinent to start a blogging carnival online to get the archaeology blogosphere alive with monthly questions, which are posted at his site.

Image Credit.

Mixed image (with judicious use of ClipArt and Paint).

It turns out there are an awful lot of interesting archaeological blogs out there on the great wide web and a fantastic 72 separate blogs took part in the first round back in November.  My November entry, which dealt with the issues of why I started blogging in the first place and what keeps me blogging, can be found here.  In his November round-up of each and every blog that took part Doug also posted the December questions that focuses on the good, the bad and the ugly of blogging archaeology.  A further recap: to take part all you have to be doing is discussing and talking about archaeology on your own blog site: you can be an individual, part of a group, a professional archaeologist, an academic or just interested in archaeology to take part.  Please do!  I have thoroughly enjoyed reading my favourite blogs reply to Doug’s questions but, importantly, I have also discovered some new sites.  That is the joy of a blogging carnival!

So without further ado let us crack on to this month’s question: the good, the bad and the ugly of blogging archaeology online.

The Good

Clearly this is a simple answer because it is you.  If you are reading these words then that is why I am writing this.  This blog has found a bigger audience than I ever could have dreamed of, even with my almost non-existent advertising of the site.  It is the active feedback, the emails that ping into my inbox asking for information on McCune Albright Syndrome or Fibrous Dysplasia or the comments on my about page, that remind me why I continue to write this blog.  This, to me, is the great side of blogging, the active feedback that lets you know that people are actually reading your blog or discussing points that you have raised in posts.  As a bonus I hopefully get to improve my writing and I get to blog about the subject that I am most passionate about.

Further to this the blog has remained a major way in which I interact with academia, especially now that I have finished my Masters degree and currently search for a job.  I am locked out of a lot of the important archaeological and osteological journals but bloggers provide article overviews, disseminate their views for a popular audience and provide direct ways in which to discuss and implement research ideas.  This, to me, is the most important part of blogging, the helping of building up a network of trusted bloggers who are informative, interesting and imaginative.

The Bad

There are very few bad things about blogging, especially blogging about archaeology and human osteology.  The fact that this blog takes up a fair amount of time to maintain, to update and to edit could be a bad thing I guess, but I do not consider a minute of this wasted time.  There is one thing that I do worry about and it is one thing that I think most academically minded bloggers worry about, that of original work being lifted word for word and not being properly credited.  Although there is little work of truly original research on this site, I have had ideas I have wanted to share for future projects and research avenues that I want to pursue but I have been put off from writing about because of two things in particular.

I am currently not in academia although I am considering a return if I can polish a research idea I have had.  For me this next step would be to apply for a doctoral research position (ie apply for a PhD) but of course I cannot share the idea as I risk it being read by others and pursued by those who are in a position to study.  I have discussed the idea with other academics and they seem to think that the avenue of research could be viable, but do I want to go further down the academic route?  Of course nothing may ever come of the idea itself.  We shall see!

The second point is that on a blog you are writing openly and publicly to the world.  Wayward Women  have a particularly enlightening post on the bad side of blogging, namely of when your hard work gets lifted, fully and completely, and is subsequently attributed to some other reporter in the press.  Further to this point I think the blogger has to be aware that any content on their site could have been lifted at any time without their knowledge.  To the extent of my own I do not think that this has happened on mine, but I do remain fearful of it happening.  I am happy if my blog is shared, if I have been recognised as the writer of the posts here.  I heartily encourage use of Creative Commons when discussing other people’s work and to reference articles and blogs accordingly.

The Ugly

Surely the ugly goes hand in hand with the above bad side of blogging, in the form of the rise of the green monster.  Although please do not mistake me for some big green giant hellbent on revenge for a non-existent slight!  No, this is of a personal monster, of only the mild jealously of seeing such fantastic and informative bloggers and blog entries on bioarchaeological and archaeological research pursing their passion with such intellectual rigour and vigour.  Academia can be insular, not for nothing is the quote of academics sitting in their ivory towers often mentioned.  However this does academia, especially archaeology, a great disservice.  One only needs to see the tremendous amount of archaeological blogs online, the rise of community archaeology and the passion in which many fight for Open Access to understand that archaeology is deeply involved with disseminating archaeological knowledge to a wide and varied audience.

I also want to pick up another point here.  Unemployment is rarely mentioned or discussed in archaeology blogs online but it is an often inherent feature of archaeological fieldwork (and, increasingly, in academia) that at some point you may (or will) find yourself out of a job.  [Un]Free Archaeology, a site ran by Sam Hardy, does a phenomenal job documenting the changing conditions of work in the current economic climate (read: austerity, plus other factors affecting academia).  I am highlighting this because this is the ugly side of the profession.  Sam has a post in particular that details in gut wrenching detail the fate that can befall many scholars on short-term contracts: unemployment.  In a recent post he has highlighted the work of Scholars at Risk Network, an organisation that until this point I had not heard of.  Scholars at Risk Network do an amazing job of detailing scholars around the world who have been imprisoned because of their academic research.  As an international organisation of individuals and institutions they are “dedicated to protecting threatened scholars, preventing attacks on higher education communities and promoting academic freedom worldwide”.  The site is well worth a look and it is worth remembering that we who blog are lucky to be able to actually do so, to have that freedom.

The next blogging carnival question will be up at Doug’s Archaeology in early January 2014 so please do jump in and join!  The summation of the December questions are available here at Doug’s site together with the topic of January’s post.