Still looking for Richard

February 14, 2013

Strangely, Laurie Taylor did not mention the research excellence framework impact arising from Poppleton University’s discovery of Boudicca (“Waking the dead”, The Poppletonian, 7 February): after all, the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History has surely hit the jackpot with the bones of Richard III. For a week, reports on the subject filled the news bulletins, the front, back and feature pages of broadsheets and tabloids in the UK, the US, Australasia and beyond, and projected the Battle of Bosworth into international consciousness. Poor Richard never had such impact when alive. The Richard III Society, rival cathedrals, Leicester City Council and the university have all laid claim to the accolades, the membership - and the tourism.

But wait. Isn’t impact outside academia supposed to be based on excellent research within it? Where is the excellent academic research here? Where are the refereed articles? Where is the final report for peer review and the evidence that the car park is actually within the old Franciscan friary and church (probably no problem, but still), and that the bones did belong to Richard III? Despite the headlines, the identification of Richard is not “beyond reasonable doubt”. A spot trench located at the whim of a non-academic is less than scientific and is more akin to automatic writing and Ouija boards. The emotional declaration that the modern reconstruction is not the face of a tyrant and murderer (certainly not the murderer of the princes!) is no improvement on the contemporary view that the real face was.

Does digging up past monarchs solve serious historical questions as successfully as it makes populist television? A lot of hard graft by Leicester’s archaeologists will be needed to demonstrate excellent research for impact for REF 2020: by then, perhaps, the REF archaeology panel can judge the depth and duration of the impact it is meant to assess.

Michael Hicks, Professor of medieval history, University of Winchester

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

Worried man wiping forehead
Two academics explain how to beat some of the typical anxieties associated with a doctoral degree
A group of flamingos and a Marabou stork

A right-wing philosopher in Texas tells John Gill how a minority of students can shut down debates and intimidate lecturers – and why he backs Trump

A face made of numbers looks over a university campus

From personalising tuition to performance management, the use of data is increasingly driving how institutions operate

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes