Break for the border to find your partners

European collaborations in the humanities can win millions from Hera. Elinor Zuke reports

January 15, 2009

About 20 research projects will be given funding of up to EUR1 million (£900,000) each under an initiative to encourage collaboration between arts and humanities academics across Europe.

Humanities in the European Research Area (Hera) - a network of funding agencies that aims to raise the profile of the humanities in Europe - has set up two joint research programmes as part of a broader move to encourage cross-border research and stimulate new ways of thinking about problems.

Only research projects that involve academics from at least three countries will be eligible to win funding under the programmes, Cultural Dynamics: Inheritance and Identity, and Humanities as a Source of Creativity and Innovation.

John Caughie, professor of film and television studies at the University of Glasgow, who sat on the working group that set up the latter programme, believes that the focus on transnational collaboration could broaden the boundaries of research.

"Cultural identity and heritage looked at within national borders are potentially less interesting than looked at across national borders," he said. "From the Scottish perspective you could examine devolution, but if you begin to think of it from (the perspective of) Eastern Europe, it becomes a new dynamic and there's a new way of looking at it."

Joining the UK in the scheme are Austria, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia and Sweden.

Professor Caughie, a council member of the UK's Arts and Humanities Research Council, said the project themes were chosen to accommodate a wide spectrum of interests.

"The Creativity and Innovation (programme) allows creative artists and practice-based researchers to be involved. It also involves issues of policy and, potentially, of history," he said.

"It's difficult to think of any discipline in arts and humanities that couldn't develop a project within these themes."

A matchmaking event held in Paris in April 2008 to encourage the creation of partnerships to apply for the funding was "a wonderful occasion", he said.

"There was a lot of enthusiasm and people did discover unexpected partnerships. I know one group that came across a partner it had no idea existed before and is now part of its network."

Networking events will be held in the UK later this month. Outline proposals for the funding must be submitted by 7 April. Groups will find out in May if they have been selected to make full proposals. The winners are expected to be announced in December.

Hera expects to receive about 120 outline proposals and to fund about 20 of them. Selection will be made by peer review. Applications will be judged on the quality of the proposals and the research team, the management of the project and its potential impact.

A contentious part of the scheme is the fact that it is funded through a common pot. Research councils from the 13 participating countries have paid in cash in proportion to their national research and development expenditure, but there is no guarantee their researchers will get the same amount back.

Annemarie Bos, co-ordinator of the Hera network and managing director of humanities at the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, said: "Competition will (be based) just on the quality of the proposals, not where the researchers come from.

"It's very exciting. If it is a success, new partners will come in. I expect this (to happen)."

But the prospect of using national funds to pay for other countries' research has proved unpopular in some places. France and Germany are absent from the scheme, in which the UK is the largest state involved, in terms of its research and development expenditure.

Jan Palmowski, head of humanities at King's College London and senior lecturer in European studies, said the absence of larger states would not affect the quality of the programmes. "Creativity in the humanities is something you can do in any environment. The smaller countries can contribute a huge amount."

Dr Palmowski said the networking events are crucial to the programmes' future success. "If you want to create meaningful applications with these networks, it is absolutely critical that researchers get to know each other beforehand.

"If you make links on the internet with people that barely know each other, you might get the funding but you won't get the chemistry a good project needs.";

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