In footsteps of Vikings, teams gather for gold raid

A €21m pot is up for grabs from pan-European collaborations in humanities, writes Chloe Stothart

May 22, 2008

Humanities researchers have traditionally enjoyed fewer chances than scientists to undertake major collaborations with colleagues around Europe, but one scheme aims to change that.

Humanities in the European Research Area (Hera), a group of 14 research councils and funding organisations from across Europe, is helping to fill the gap caused in part by a relative lack of grant schemes aimed at multinational collaborations. It will call for papers for two joint research programmes, worth €21 million (£17 million), at the start of next year.

One will look at "cultural dynamics", or culture as a form of "traffic between societies, communities and generations". The other will examine the "humanities as a source of creativity and innovation".

"In the humanities it is very unusual (to have a large, multinational grant programme)," said Julia Boman, junior scientific officer at the European Science Foundation, which administers Hera.

"Humanities by nature has tended to develop at a national level, so this is a break and will be quite interesting and give nice, comparative results," she said.

Proposals will be considered only from research teams that include members from three of the participating states (Austria, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden and the UK).

Ahead of the call, Hera is offering networking grants to ease the logistical headache of assembling a cross-European team.

The 30 networking grants, worth €3,000 each, will pay for travel and accommodation for members of would-be Hera joint research teams to get together and formulate ideas for their research grant bid.

The teams will have a balance of men and women, will include early career researchers and will contain a range of complementary expertise.

While network grant winners are expected to apply for joint research programmes funding, teams may apply for these grants even if they have not already won money from the networking fund.

Applications for the networking grant will close at 1pm Central European Time on 2 June. At the start of July applicants will be told if their networking bids have been successful.

Workshops funded by the grant must take place between September and December 2008, and UK applicants must be employed by a UK university.

For Christina Lee, lecturer in Viking studies at the University of Nottingham, the multinational nature of the research fund fits well with her plans to research the migration of the Vikings all over Europe.

Dr Lee attended a matchmaking event in Paris to bring 40 UK academics in the arts and humanities together with more than 200 of their continental counterparts ahead of the launch of the networking fund. She is assembling a five-strong team for the networking grant from the universities of Nottingham and Caen and an Irish institution. They will go on to increase the size of the team and bid for the research fund.

"The Vikings did not just go to the British Isles; they also went to Russia, the north Atlantic, France and Normandy and then we got them back as the Normans," Dr Lee said.

"It is a European phenomenon. This Hera networking grant will enable me to work with colleagues doing the same type of research as me in other countries," she said.

The study will include work on modern approaches to Viking identity: people in some countries, such as the UK, are much more interested in identifying their Viking roots than citizens of other nations who prefer to highlight other parts of their ancestry.

It will also look at the reasons for the more extensive integration of Norse into the English language compared with languages such as French or Irish. Dr Lee hopes to bring together postdoctoral researchers from several countries for workshops and to work with museums to disseminate the discoveries to the public.

Christelle Pellecuer, international affairs manager at the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which is one of the funding councils involved in Hera, said it was the first time the council had played a role in a funding programme across 14 European countries.

The research councils have all contributed to the EUR21 million common pot to fund the joint research programme, thereby maximising the amount of money available for researchers.

"There's no guarantee that the money will come back to us, but if there is a lot of interest from UK academics then there is a big chance the UK will benefit," she said.

See: www.heranet.info.

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