RAE Countdown 2008

July 21, 2006

Roger Griffin is professor in modern history at Oxford Brookes University.

He is one of 21 academics hoping to maintain the department's top research assessment exercise rating in 2008.

I feel like I'm near the end of a marathon. We've been told we need a monograph as one of our four RAE pieces, so I've had to produce one.

It's an ambitious book so it's been full on for a year, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now.

The book, The Sense of Beginning: Political Modernism under Mussolini and Hitler (Palgrave), explores the relationship between modernism and fascism and the "sense of a beginning" under Mussolini and Hitler.

I have rethought modernism from an anthropological perspective. Modernists often believe it is necessary to go back to go forward, tapping into primordial sources of creativity to solve contemporary problems. I explore the origins of culture from an existential premise.

Black holes give the energy to create new stars, and the fear of nothingness, of meaningless time, forces human beings to erect a "sacred canopy" to shield them against the emptiness of the skies. Fascism can be seen as a modern attempt to erect a new sky, with catastrophic consequences. Orthodox historians may not like it, but others will find it exciting.

The RAE makes you feel as if you're on a treadmill, very tired the whole time. There's a sense of battle fatigue because of the constant pressure.

It takes you away from a disinterested interest in know-ledge. In theory, 30 per cent of my time is spent on research, but in practice it's difficult not to neglect your students. In a way, I'm grateful to the RAE. The pressure has forced me to get my act together, apply for grants and face my demons.

I've generated shorter publications on the back of a book I wrote 15 years ago and the RAE has forced another major monograph out of me. This time next year I hope I'll have forgotten all the stress and pain.

You need good stress to get anything done, as long as management handles it properly.

Our department got a 5*. It was a mixed blessing - wonderful in terms of prestige and income, but it meant that to stand still we had to run and it changed the whole ethos to working towards the next RAE. We were naive last time around. This time, it's been a lot more strategic. Two or three people took on planning for the RAE, telling people what was needed from them.

They were like midwives. We were pushing and heavy breathing and they were there with the forceps. This book was nearly a breach birth but now it's coming out head first.

I have a six-year-old son. He and the RAE are equally stressful, but I can tell you what's more fulfilling. There's life after the RAE.

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