News Article | April 14, 2017
Art galleries have long specialised in transporting visitors to another world, allowing them to dive into Hockney’s swimming pool, hear the clamour of war in Picasso’s Guernica or feel the spray of the sea from a Turner scene – all within the confines of four white walls. But a new dimension is making its way into museums and galleries across the UK, one that extends the physical space into an experimental virtual world. From next month, Somerset House in London will open its first exhibition rendered entirely in a virtual reality space. Renowned British artist Mat Collishaw will digitally recreate the first photography exhibition, held in 1839 by William Henry Fox Talbot. Once viewers put on their VR goggles, they will be able to walk into this virtual space and view the works on the walls, as well as the glass vitrines and equipment as they would have been displayed almost 180 years ago. Collishaw said he was interested in creating a virtual reality artwork “as a way to engage with this technology I believe is going to change the way we look at the world”. “VR still feels like an unknown and that makes it really compelling,” he said. “I think it’s going to have a similar impact on art as photography did, which is why I’ve chosen this specific moment to explore through VR. That show changed how we viewed images for ever and I think VR will bring about the same kind of shift.” As well as the CGI world inside the goggles, the exhibition will have a physical element. Visitors will be able to touch real objects and feel real sensations that correspond with what they see in the virtual world – whether it’s the warmth of a fire or the mouldings on the walls. To prevent people from colliding into each other while wearing the goggles, other visitors will appear as “shadowy digital avatars” in the virtual space. Collishaw’s exhibition is the second show by Somerset House based on VR. In September, it displayed Björk’s VR music videos, with headset-wearing audiences immersed in the dramatic ravines of Iceland and conceptual imagined landscapes that visually represented each song on her album Vulnicura. Somerset House is far from alone. The British Museum first experimented with the technology in 2015, enabling viewers to step back 4,000 years into a bronze age site, while a recent exhibition at the Baltic gallery in Gateshead exploring the plight of refugees included a VR installation that took viewers on to a boat in the Mediterranean. In February, the Home art centre in Manchester staged a VR exhibition inspired by Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy of novels, taking audiences into the world of reclusive crime writer Daniel Quinn. Virtual reality headsets have been around since the 1990s but were popularised by the Oculus Rift, a project launched in the US in 2012 by 18-year-old Palmer Luckey and backed by a $2.4m crowdfunding campaign. In 2014, Facebook bought Oculus VR for $2bn. It has been suggested that VR could also be a way for people to tour museums and galleries without leaving their houses. For those with VR headsets, it is possible to tour the Courtauld Institute and the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London, and the Guggenheim in New York. However, neither Google, which is pioneering the technology, nor any of the galleries that have adopted it believe VR is a threat to numbers of physical visitors. The Serpentine Gallery in London has been particularly quick to embrace the technology. It recently used VR to take four architectural paintings by the late Zaha Hadid and build them in the virtual space for viewers to step into and explore. Ben Vickers, digital curator of the Serpentine, said this was only the first of several VR projects the gallery was developing. “We are trying to avoid replicating or replacing experiences one can have in real life – it seems pointless to just create a virtual version of the white cube of a gallery – so it’s more about breaking new ground and shaping and influencing the technology itself,” said Vickers. “You will never be able to replace the experience of seeing an artwork in the flesh – it’s about creating something completely unique. And we believe that artists can play a critical role in the development of technology.” Although VR is often a solitary experience, Vickers said the technology was developing to enable it to become a social sphere, where people put on a headset and enter the same world as other people. The opportunities for artists to build these worlds, or create art to go in them, could “change the gallery space for ever”, according to Vickers. The cost and complexity of VR remains a barrier for artists who are keen to create work using the technology. However, Google has set up Google Arts and Culture, a branch dedicated to bringing VR together with the arts, and is working with 1,200 cultural institutions around the world to offer its technology to artists. At Art Basel, Google commissioned four major artists to create work using its Tilt Brush 3D painting tool. Suhair Khan, UK programme manager for Google Arts and Culture, said that after some initial resistance, she had seen a “surge in interest in VR” from UK museums and galleries over the past year. “We’re very much at the exploratory stage with this technology,” she added. “We started off making very simple films but we’ve got to the point now where we’re pushing the boundaries of where can VR go. The next step is bringing augmented reality into the gallery space.” The technology is also being adopted by the longstanding, more traditional institutions. In January, the Royal Academy staged its first VR exhibition; Tim Marlow, artistic director, said more uses for it were planned. “I don’t think I’ve seen anything by any artist that’s fully pushing at the limits of VR,” he said. “We’re at a moment where we need to step up and use it in an interesting and critical way, otherwise what once seemed radical could just become a fairly static, conventional act of putting on goggles as just another way to look at art.”
Agency: GTR | Branch: AHRC | Program: | Phase: Research Grant | Award Amount: 439.32K | Year: 2014
There is a growing body of evidence which describes the social inclusion role of museums and the role that museums play in improving health and wellbeing, including previous research funded by the AHRC. This research has shown that engaging in museums provides: positive social experiences, leading to reduced social isolation; opportunities for learning and acquiring news skills; calming experiences, leading to decreased anxiety; increased positive emotions, such as optimism, hope and enjoyment; increased self-esteem and sense of identity; increased inspiration and opportunities for meaning making; positive distraction from clinical environments, including hospitals and care homes; and increased communication between families, carers and health professionals. Given the wide range of benefits it is not surprising that more and more museums and galleries are adapting their access programmes to consider the wider social, health and wellbeing benefits that museum encounters can bring about. From museum object handling to reminiscence sessions, through to interactive exhibitions, tours, talks and participatory arts and creative activities, museums offer a diverse range of opportunities for active engagement. With over 2500 museums in the UK alone, most of which are free, museums offer a largely untapped resource as places which can support public health. Museums, however, are very well placed to address issues such as social isolation, physical and mental ill-health and evidence suggests that museums can help to build social capital and resilience, and improve health and wellbeing. The Health and Social Care Act (2012) is bringing about considerable changes to the way health and social care services will be delivered in the future. A key part of these health reforms sees a shift towards prevention is better than cure, within a model which will require a multi-agency approach with an increased reliance on third sector organisations such as charities, voluntary and community organisations. Part of the reason for the health reforms is the realisation that individuals are living longer but with unhealthier lifestyles, with a significant increase in age- and lifestyle-related diseases, such as dementia and diabetes; this places added pressure on health services (including the NHS) and social services. It has also been shown that there is a social gradient in relation to health, whereby individuals from poorer socio-economic backgrounds experience reduced health, wellbeing and social resilience. It is easy to see how museums could fit into this new era of health commissioning considering the benefits described above. One of the biggest challenges facing the museums sector is understanding how best to meet these needs; here lessons from arts-in-health could help inform the museums sector. Over the past few decades arts-in-health has gained considerable support, backed up by a robust evidence base. Many arts organisations have developed more formalised relationships with health and social care providers, offering schemes described as social prescribing. Social prescribing links patients in primary care with local sources of support within the community. The proposed research seeks to test a novel Museums on Prescription scheme (MoP). The research will link museums with health and social care providers, and third sector organisations such as AgeUK, and using lessons learnt from arts-based social prescribing schemes, will set up two MoPs, one in Central London and one regional MoP in Kent. By working closely with health/social care service users, and museum, health, social care and third sector professionals, the research will use a range of techniques, including quality of health measures, interviews and questionnaires, to develop a MoP model which can be adopted by the museums sector as a way to provide a novel public health intervention.
Agency: GTR | Branch: AHRC | Program: | Phase: Research Grant | Award Amount: 445.15K | Year: 2015
This project will investigate the ways in which historic artefacts are tools for contemplating the past, for remembering collective practices of ethnic identity, and for contributing to cultural revitalization processes, particularly in areas that have experienced political and ceremonial suppression. The regional focus is the Sakha Republic (Yakutiia), Russian Federation, and the centrepiece of the project is a unique mammoth ivory model of ysyakh, the summer festival of the Sakha (Yakut) people, which has been in the collection of project partner, the British Museum (BM), since 1867. During the Soviet era, many Sakha cultural expressions, including ysyakh, were suppressed. Since the 1990s, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, cultural revitalization and attempts to establish political autonomy have generated considerable interest in these expressions and in the intersection of their historic and contemporary forms. Accessing Sakha historic artefacts, now scattered in museums worldwide, is key to these processes. While considerable work has been done in North America to link museum collections with descendent communities, there is virtually no scholarship regarding such projects in Russia. This project will thus be a model for developing inter-cultural relations between museums in the Russian Federation and beyond, and will contribute to better understanding cultural movements in post-Soviet states more broadly. Model of a Summer Camp depicts a scene from ysyakh and is the earliest known representation of this festival. Although it is regarded as a quintessentially Sakha work, few Sakha people have engaged directly with the model and it is not normally on public display. Through the exhibition of the model in project partner, the National Arts Museum of the Sakha Republic, Yakutsk, timed to coincide with the ysyakh celebrations of 2015, and associated archival and ethnographic research to explore its historical and contemporary relevance, we will: - explore the silencing of cultural memory during times of ideological oppression; - investigate the capacity of historic artefacts to support cultural revitalization; - examine the articulation of historic artefacts, cultural memory, narratives and silence and to ask how it might inform contemporary museum practice; - contribute to the professional development of museum colleagues in Russia and the UK through the exchange of curatorial expertise; - disseminate our research through a range of formats, e.g., scholarly and popular publications, conference presentations, two exhibitions, and a project website with educational resources in English, Russian and Sakha; - promote and strengthen relations between the UK and the Russian Federation through the first collaborative project involving cultural institutions in Britain and the Russian North. This project will engage stakeholders in the Sakha Republic, the UK, and internationally. The project team (Dr. Alison Brown, Dr. Tatiana Argounova-Low, and a postdoctoral Research Assistant) will work directly with contemporary artists utilising Sakha traditional forms, cultural practitioners, and ysyakh celebrants. Our research methods include archival research, artefact analysis, interviews, participation in ysyakh events, and observation and discussion of arts practices. The projects main societal impacts will be in the areas of culture and well-being. It also has the potential to influence museum practice. Beneficiaries include school, college and university students; artists; museum professionals; scholars in disciplines such as Anthropology, Museum Studies, Visual Culture, and History; the wider public with interests in other cultures and their artistic and ceremonial traditions.
Agency: GTR | Branch: AHRC | Program: | Phase: Research Grant | Award Amount: 30.35K | Year: 2016
The current proposal aims to implement a new approach to fieldwork in Egypt by looking at the broad spectrum of history - up until the present day - at multi-layered sites, including efforts to preserve heritage rather than only researching it. The project will undertake and develop a sustainable conservation policy for archaeological sites using the Asyut region in Middle Egypt, and the village of Shutb in particular, as a case-study. Rather than merely looking upon archaeological sites as salvage missions or narrow-eyed academic pursuits, the project supports local interests to better the lives of local communities so that they can function as working partners in preserving the site. The envisioned methodology promotes (1) better integration of preservation and heritage management methodologies and specialists into archaeological fieldwork projects, (2) coordination and collaboration amongst different institutions and agencies concerned with heritage preservation, (3) engaging with local communities, local heritage professionals and other stakeholders through training and capacity building by hands-on experience and implementation of policies. To achieve these goals, the British Museum will collaborate with an interdisciplinary team of Egypt-based consultants and local stakeholders to develop a set of protection measures in order to uphold Shutbs archaeological value, to prevent further decay of the historic fabric and to enhance the socio-economic (living) conditions of the inhabitants. To this means, two seasons of fieldwork in Shutb will include a series of surveys and meetings to assess the impact and perception of the villages presence on the archaeological remains, identifying and prioritizing meaningful ways of intervention and a documentation training mission. Many of the defined threats to heritage also negatively affect peoples health, such as proximity to garbage disposal and ground and water pollution. The gathered survey data will be used to define programmes to reduce and redirect garbage dumping and improve waste and water management systems of residential units to reduce ground pollution and increase personal health. Depending on the outcome of the community meetings and interviews; the project will develop solutions to the communitys most pressing needs. Such an all-inclusive approach has never been tested in Egypt, where fieldwork has traditionally been physically and intellectually separated from the surrounding environment and communities. It is, however, an opportune moment to develop more sustainable methodologies as ancient tells are at risk from the forces of nature and the impact of social, political, and economic change.Through collaboration with the Ministry of Antiquities, the impact of the established methodology can be accelerated if implemented at other sites or -even more fundamentally- incorporated into governmental strategies.
Agency: GTR | Branch: AHRC | Program: | Phase: Research Grant | Award Amount: 755.32K | Year: 2016
Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) is by far the best-known Japanese artist, sometimes mentioned with Rembrandt and Picasso as one of the few artists to have created art with a truly global reach. The power of his work has long been apparent. He captivated the Japanese public in his lifetime, quickly caught the eye of Euro-American artists, and has continued to fascinate a global audience ever since. His Great Wave (c. 1831) is by some estimates now the most reproduced image in the world. Hokusai remains a puzzle, however, and the full scope of his work little known. Among the public, he is often seen as the archetypal representative of the ukiyo-e (floating world) school, although this fails to capture the full range of his work. Among specialists, he is usually isolated as an eccentric, outside the conventional categories of Japanese art, even though there is a lack of consensus about the authentic body of his work. Neither perspective grasps the original, enduring, and universal power of Hokusais pictorial imagination. To do so, this project will focus on his last three decades. The prints of Mount Fuji were not only evidence of his mastery of a startling range of styles, forms, and formats. They inaugurated an extraordinary series of images, some from the last months of his life, in which Hokusai continued to refine his communion with human, natural, and unseen worlds. In order to understand the power of this work, we will be asking: 1. How was Hokusais art animated by his thought, notably his belief that painting and drawing were a means of transcending the limitations of the self? 2. How does Hokusais mature style synthesize and redefine the artistic vocabularies of Japan, China, and Europe, which he had studied earlier in his career? 3. How can we identify Hokusais own painted work, given the lack of consensus about criteria with which to establish authenticity? 4. How was Hokusais work enabled by the social networks that linked him to collaborators and craftsmen, printers and publishers, pupils, patrons, and the public? These questions will provide the foundation for the next generation of scholarship and a transformed appreciation of Hokusai among the public. The results of the research will be disseminated through: a major exhibition and monograph at the British Museum in 2017, which will then travel to Japan; an international conference and edited research volume; and a pilot online resource, providing a space within which researchers and the public can explore and further our understanding of Hokusais achievement. The project is lead by Timothy Clark of the British Museum, a specialist in Edo-period visual arts. He will be assisted by Angus Lockyer, a Japanese historian at SOAS, University of London, and Alfred Haft and Ryoko Matsuba, two specialists in Edo-period art at the British Museum and SOAS. The core project team will be advised by Roger Keyes, the leading specialist on Hokusai working in English, and ASANO Shugo, a Hokusai specialist and Director of Abeno Harukas Museum, Osaka, where the exhibition will travel after London. The Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, the leading database of ukiyo-e imagery in the world, will furnish digital support for the project. The project relies on international collaboration and will draw on a range of researchers in order to explore the interdisciplinary questions at its heart. Key institutional partners are Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Freer-Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Musée Guimet in Paris, and over ten leading museums in Japan, including the Tokyo National Museum. Among the key contributors to the project will be an advisory committee comprising Professors Henry Smith (Columbia University), Peter Kornicki (Cambridge), Robert Campbell (Tokyo) and KOBAYASHI Tadashi (Tokyo), Dr John Carpenter (Metropolitan Museum) and NAGATA Seiji (Tsuwano Katsushika Hokusai Museum).
Agency: GTR | Branch: AHRC | Program: | Phase: Research Grant | Award Amount: 254.00K | Year: 2011
Hajj, is one of the five pillars of the faith of Islam. It is a sacred duty for Muslims, wherever they may reside, to go at least once in their lives, if they are able, to Mecca, where the Prophet Muhammad received the revelation in the early 7th century. Drawing millions of pilgrims annually, Hajj is a powerful bond that draws Muslims together from across the world. It takes place in the 12th month of the Muslim year Dhul Hijja. Over the course of one week a number of specific rituals are performed which involve circumambulation of the Kaba, the cube-shaped building in the centre of the sanctuary at Mecca, and visiting key sites. Hajj has ancient roots. The Kaba is believed by Muslims to have been built by Abraham and his son Ishmael and was the focus of pilgrimage before the coming of Islam. \n\nFrom earliest Islamic times those rulers of Muslim dynasties whose territories encompassed Mecca and Medina looked after and refurbished the two holy sites. They provided shelter along the routes and organised the great annual caravans that took place. These carried the cloth known as the kiswa which was draped on the Kaba. The rulers, particularly the Ottomans, gave sumptuous gifts to the shrines. Many of these objects survive today. Before modern travel, the journey was long and hazardous. Pilgrims came from far afield and their journeys are evocatively documented in the form of manuscripts, photographs and wall paintings. Today the holy sites are under the care of the King of Saudi Arabia who has the title, Servant of the Two Holy Sites. On average about two million Muslims from across the world undertake the Hajj.\n\nThis project aims to research the history of the Hajj and the objects associated with it over the length of its history to underpin a major international exhibition and supporting programme of activities.\n\nAn extensive exhibition on the Hajj has not been undertaken before. It will consist of three main interacting elements: \n1) the pilgrims journey through history with an emphasis on the major routes used; \n2) the Hajj today and the rituals associated with the journey, and, once at Mecca, the rituals involved;\n3) Mecca itself, the destination of the Hajj, its origins and importance. \n\n The research will lead in broad terms to the sourcing of appropriate objects as well as film, photographs and contemporary art that powerfully evoke the sacred and the historical side of this extraordinary phenomenon. It will also lead to a thorough grounding of the source material including the writings of Arab travelers and historical accounts. \n\nThere are therefore a number of distinct avenues of research with a number of key partners. The first focuses on the routes: across Arabia, from the Muslims heartlands, from Africa and across the Indian Ocean as far as China. \n\nEach of these routes will be researched in some cases with key partners who will be major lenders to the exhibition and contributors to the catalogue. For the Darb Zubeyda, for example, key partners are from King Saud University in Riyadh. For the Ottoman period route from Damascus, the majority of the objects are in Topkapi Palace, Istanbul and they will be the second of the key partners. For the trans-Saharan route, the research will examine the journey of the 14th century ruler Mansa Musa and carry out research in the libraries of Timbuktu. Juxtaposed with the medieval period journeys will be to examine the Hajj experience of Muslims coming from Africa today.\n\nAnother important area of research will be to investigate the rich source of Hajj related material, including manuscripts from institutions in Malaysia, Indonesia and Leiden and the bank documents of the Saudi-Hollandi Bank in Saudi Arabia responsible for pilgrims from across South-East Asia. The journeys from eastern and western India will be researched both in pre-modern and modern times. And finally, the journey today from the UK and the experiences of British Muslims.
Agency: GTR | Branch: AHRC | Program: | Phase: Research Grant | Award Amount: 645.60K | Year: 2013
Hoards of valued materials, particularly coins, are a common, and rapidly growing, class of discovery across the Roman Empire. While these are most commonly seen as having been deposited for safe keeping, other explanations for this activity are also possible. There has been little explicit discussion or research on why Roman coin hoards were buried, why hoards were not recovered in antiquity, or what they tell us when studied as a group. Six hundred hoards are known from Britain containing coins of the period AD 253-96, an unprecedented concentration, and they provide a key and under-used dataset that can shed light on a poorly known period of British archaeology and history. The British pattern of later 3rd-century hoards differs markedly from the rest of the western Roman empire, despite the political problems that affected Britain at this time being felt equally or more severely in many other European provinces. This anomaly merits detailed investigation and the results will have implications not only for interpretation of this specific hoarding phenomenon, but will contribute significantly to more general debates about hoarding behaviour in antiquity. Traditionally these hoards have been interpreted as having been buried with the intention of recovery but recent discoveries such as the Frome hoard have suggested the possibility that these hoards may have been ritual (or `votive) deposits. Ritual deposition is a common explanation for prehistoric metalwork, and many, if not all, Iron Age coin hoards. Can we show whether any of the 3rd century hoards were likely to have been ritual deposits and, if so, how many? If so, what are the implications for the use of their contents in studying monetary history or political history? We propose to ask the following research questions: 1. Why were coin hoards deposited in Roman Britain - and was this for similar reasons as other Iron Age and Roman coin hoards? 2. Why were so many coin hoards deposited (and not recovered) in 3rd-century Britain and is their date of burial the same as the date of their latest coins? 3. What do coin hoards tell us about the economic and political history of 3rd-century Britain? 4. How different or similar are 3rd-century British coin hoards to those from other periods of Roman Britain or other parts of northwestern provinces of the Roman Empire? 5. What wider lessons can be learnt about using coin hoards to understand the economic, political and religious history of the Roman Empire? The project brings together the expertise of the British Museum in the study of Roman coins and hoards and the academic strengths of the University of Leicester in Roman archaeology and their experience of investigating coin hoards in a landscape setting. The PI, Dr Roger Bland, is Keeper of Portable Antiquities & Treasure at the British Museum and has very extensive experience studying hoards; the CIs are Professors Colin Haselgrove and David Mattingly, leading experts respectively on Iron Age archaeology and coinage and on the archaeology and economy of the Roman Empire. Under their collective guidance and with input from expert colleagues, 3 RAs will study (1) the hoards from Britain and the wider Empire, (2) a landscape study of the hoard findspots and archaeological evidence for Roman Britain in the 3rd century AD; and (3) reasons for the deposition of metalwork in the Iron Age and Roman periods. The key outputs will include a monograph, at least 5 peer-reviewed articles, 2 conferences (the papers of which will be published), two exhibitions, articles for popular magazines and a web-based hoards database. The project will build on discoveries made by members of the public and reported through the Portable Antiquities Scheme to provide a comprehensive study of coin hoarding in Britain in the 3rd century AD, set in a wider context, and will also address key wider questions relevant for understanding coin hoards in other periods.
Agency: GTR | Branch: AHRC | Program: | Phase: Research Grant | Award Amount: 77.37K | Year: 2016
The current proposal aims to implement a new approach to fieldwork in Egypt by looking at the broad spectrum of history - up until the present day - at multi-layered sites, including efforts to preserve heritage rather than only researching it. The project will undertake and develop a sustainable conservation policy for archaeological sites using the Asyut region in Middle Egypt, and the village of Shutb in particular, as a case-study. Rather than merely looking upon archaeological sites as salvage missions or narrow-eyed academic pursuits, the project supports local interests to better the lives of local communities so that they can function as working partners in preserving the site. The employed methodology promotes (1) better integration of preservation and heritage management methodologies and specialists into archaeological fieldwork projects, (2) coordination and collaboration amongst different institutions and agencies concerned with heritage preservation, (3) engaging with local communities, local heritage professionals and other stakeholders through training and capacity building by hands-on experience and implementation of projects. To achieve these goals, the British Museum will collaborate with an interdisciplinary team of Cairo-based consultants, staff of Cambridge University and local stake holders to develop a set of protection measures in order to uphold Shutbs archaeological value, to prevent further decay of the historic fabric and to enhance the socio-economic (living) conditions of the inhabitants. Two seasons of fieldwork in Shutb will include a series of surveys and meetings to assess the impact and perception of the villages presence on the archaeological remains and identify and prioritise meaningful ways of intervention. Further efforts to engaged local communities will focus on capacity building through documentation and training linked to tangible results - seeking to enable the next generation of curators to have skills to deliver such documentation themselves. Such engagement will facilitate the education of local communities about the value of the archaeology beneath them. Many of the defined threats to heritage also negatively affect peoples health, such as proximity to garbage disposal and ground and water pollution. The gathered survey data will be used to define programmes to reduce and redirect garbage dumping and improve waste and water management systems of residential units to reduce ground pollution and increase personal health. Depending on the outcome of the community meetings and interviews; the project will develop solutions to the communitys most pressing needs. Such an all-inclusive approach has never been tested in Egypt, where fieldwork has traditionally been physically and intellectually separated from the surrounding environment and communities. It is, however, an opportune moment to develop more sustainable methodologies as ancient tells are at risk from the forces of nature and the impact of social, political, and economic change. Through collaboration with the Ministry of Antiquities, the impact of the established methodology can be accelerated if implemented at other sites or -even more fundamentally- incorporated into governmental strategies.
Agency: GTR | Branch: AHRC | Program: | Phase: Research Grant | Award Amount: 197.74K | Year: 2013
This research seeks a better understanding of the interaction between people and the Nile Valley ecosystem in northern Sudan, and how present-day and ancient peoples have found solutions for coping with a risky environment. Massive technological shifts are dramatically altering modes of food production and bringing about new environmental challenges. Recent years have seen relocation of populations from islands, colonisation of new areas of the Nile valley and implementation of new agricultural technologies. This study will create a long-term perspective of adaptive solutions and how these are relevant to the future. This will be achieved through case studies of agricultural and plant exploitation practices from ancient and present day Nile island settlements, set within the context of a temporal overview of subsistence systems from the archaeological record. Traditionally, islands have been important locations of settlement since there are fewer areas of wide floodplain suited to traditional agriculture (in comparison with Egypt). Amara West will provide an archaeological case study for exploring how subsistence systems in an ancient town were impacted by aridity. Once situated on an island, sediment studies show a subsidiary channel dried up towards the end of the 2nd millennium BC exposing the town to windblown sand (prompting architectural amendments) and reducing agricultural land. Analysis of archaeobotanical remains recovered from well preserved architecture and features such as ovens and grinding emplacements will allow chrono-stratigraphic assessment of subsistence change in relation to the onset of localised aridity. Car and electricity-free Ernetta, a Nile island 5km upstream, will provide a base-line to study present-day traditional Nubian foodways and exploitation of natural local resources. Findings will be contrasted with river bank settlements subject to greater development, in terms of agricultural technology, modern materials used for house building, and access to new road networks and imports. Contemporary subsistence data and that from Amara will be placed in a broader temporal overview to create a new perspective on agricultural risk management strategies and adaptive solutions, predominantly via review of subsistence related literature. Research will examine: Can archaeological evidence inform decisions and advice being given to develop sustainable farming practices in the present and future? Can comparisons of ancient and present-day traditional Nubian agricultural and plant exploitation practices inform us about risk management and sustainable strategies? Were agricultural practices and access to other natural resources effected by environmental change (including climate) in the distant and recent past? How are changing foodways and resource exploitation patterns connected with population dynamics, and import patterns? Research will record and promote local knowledge of sustainable resource exploitation as relevant to future natural resources management. A report will be authored (and translated into Arabic) for organisations and bodies related to sustainable livelihoods and agriculture. Research will be disseminated via conferences within and outside of academia, through peer-review papers with multi-disciplinary academic audiences, and to the wider general public, school children and academic audiences via the British Museum. British Museum outputs will include print and web media, and the development of new Key Stage 2 teacher resources. Research will support the British Museums, and other UK government agencies, on-going work and training and cultural relations in the Arab Republic of Sudan, but will also position the Museum and University sector, with its understanding of human settlement patterns and subsistence strategies across a long timeframe, as a key stakeholder in the shaping for future strategies.
Agency: GTR | Branch: AHRC | Program: | Phase: Research Grant | Award Amount: 421.81K | Year: 2012
Understanding China, home to one quarter of mankind, is vital to all citizens of the world. Chinas international role is of paramount importance to us all. To understand that role we need to investigate Chinas historical relationships with Africa, the Middle East, South, Southeast and East Asia. The most influential period of Chinas cultural interaction with the wider world was the early 15th century; hence it is this period that is the focus of our research project. By researching early Ming Chinas courts, their cultural, military and religious activities, and foreign interaction we can present a new history of this period. This history can then be the foundation for future research. Key to the presentation of this new history is an exhibition for 2014-2015 to be shown in the new World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre (currently under construction) at the British Museum. The exhibition Ming Courts and Contacts 1400-1450, a book, planned academic conference and edited volume will disseminate this research to a wide range of audiences. This project is led by two Ming specialists, Jessica Harrison-Hall of the BM and Professor Craig Clunas of Oxford University and . An essential aspect of this new research will be to bring together a range of different researchers to explore the key questions at the heart of this project. For the exhibition key institutional partners will be museums, libraries and universities in Asia, North America and Europe e.g. Hubei Provincial Museum in Wuhan, Palace Museum, Beijing, and the National Palace Museum, Taipei. The research will draw on the expertise of scholars with backgrounds in archaeology, architecture, art-history, anthropology, economics and literary studies. The imperial court of China in the early Ming enjoyed an unprecedented range of contacts with other courts of Asia (the Timurids in Iran and Central Asia, the Ashikaga in Japan, Joseon Korea) but also with Bengal, with Sri Lanka, with Africa, and even with the heart of the Islamic world in Mecca. In addition to Clunas and Harrison-Hall key authors for the book are Lothar Ledderose Professor of the History of Art of Eastern Asia at the University of Heidelberg, Germany; David Robinson - Robert H.N. Ho Professor in Asian Studies, Professor of History Colgate University, USA; Marsha Haufler (Weidner) - Professor of Later Chinese Art, University of Kansas, USA; Timothy Brook, Professor of Chinese History at the University of British Columbia, Canada; and Yuan Wenqing of Hubei Provincial Museum. In contemporary China 1400-1450 is popularly regarded as a golden age of international engagement and a model for modern China. This is demonstrated through contemporary material culture - films, postage stamps and advertising. Recent popular histories written for an English-reading audience have misinformed a general public about this period. This new research and the exhibition Ming Courts and Contacts 1400-1450 which will disseminate the findings will address this and present a new, well-researched history for academic and popular consumption. Key research questions are: 1. To what extent Chinese culture and society of the period 1400-1450 was shaped by contacts with other cultures and societies of the time? 2. What was the nature of that engagement - what did China appropriate from, and what did it contribute to, other cultures 1400-1450? 3. To what extent was that engagement mediated through Chinese central and regional imperial courts, as key nodes of transnational or transcultural contact? 4. What was the distinctive role of art and material culture in that engagement, and to what extent do they support or subvert the narratives derived from textual sources? 5. How does that period of sustained transnational and transcultural contact affect current Chinese state and popular perceptions of Chinas role in the world ?