Call for Proposals: Archaeology in Central Asia

By Ian Caswell, on 20 April 2017

UCL Press and the journal Editors are proud to announce a new open access journal,  Archaeology in Central Asia, is now open for submissions!

This new publication aims to showcase the current work of archaeol­ogists in Central Asia, presenting ongoing research and excavations primarily in short 1000-word mini-articles, in the areas of archaeolo­gy, heritage, and art history. The journal aims to create links between those working internationally and in Central Asia by creating a platform for scholars to engage with a large new body of research in the field. Journal articles will include contact details of individual researchers and web links to their online project sites, and via an online geographical system highlighting the locations and interactions of the sites and her­itage assets. Articles can be submitted in Russian or English and each will be bilingually translated for publication.

Editors:

Dr Gai Jorayev, UCL, UK

Dr Dmitriy Voyakin, Institute of Archaeology MES RK, Kazakhstan

Dr Paul Wordsworth, University of Oxford, UK

For more information and how to submit, contact the Journal Editors at uclpresspublishing@ucl.ac.uk

International Women’s Day Excerpt: Women on excavation

By Alison Major, on 8 March 2017

Today’s excerpt, to celebrate International Women’s Day, is from The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology: Characters and Collections, edited by Alice Stevenson.

On 10 March 1923, the London Illustrated News ran a double-page spread with the headline ‘Men who perform the “spade work” of history: British names famous in the field of archaeology’. Many familiar faces from Egyptology were featured, including Flinders Petrie, Howard Carter, and F. L. Griffith. What this feature completely overlooked, as many histories of ‘Great Discoveries’ have, is the important contribution made by female archaeologists. Indeed, many excavations in Egypt and Sudan were dependent upon them.

During field seasons Hilda Petrie engaged in one of the most important activities on excavation: the recording of finds and the inking onto objects of the record of their findspot. Many objects in the Petrie Museum bear her handwriting and these form indispensable keys that allow us to associate those things with the records, plans and photographs that document the circumstances of their discovery. Throughout her career Hilda additionally undertook the surveying and planning of sites, inked drawings for publication and edited her husband’s text. Hilda was also instrumental in raising funds for expeditions. For these reasons, Petrie dedicated his final memoirs of a life in archaeology ‘to my wife, on whose toil most of my work has depended’.

Many other female pioneers in archaeology also acquired their first experiences of fieldwork on Petrie digs. This included Gertrude Caton-Thompson, who not only made ground-breaking discoveries in Egyptian prehistory, but additionally went on to demonstrate definitively the indigenous African origins of Great Zimbabwe in the face of hostile criticism from the largely male academy. Other regular field collaborators included artists such as Winifred Brunton and Annie Quibell, whose toil on site is often little recognized, but was crucial to the success of field seasons.

An Interview with Robert Biel, author of Sustainable Food Systems: Role of the City

By Alison Major, on 21 February 2017

RBIEL78I’m intrigued about your pathway into this topic.

Well it converged from two directions. I’ve been an allotment holder for 15 years, experimenting with a low-input, high-productivity method where you work alongside natural systems, not against them.  That was a hobby, something I loved doing.  Professionally, I was teaching international relations theory, which is a lot about how order can emerge from within a system itself.

In the debate following my first book, The New Imperialism, I discovered general systems theory, which tries to identify what’s common to all systems: they have a capacity to self-regulate, but they can also go haywire.  So I began to understand that the ecological problem and the threats to human society are not two separate challenges which just happen to face us simultaneously; rather, we can study them – and look for answers – in an integrated way.

I addressed this in my 2012 book The Entropy of Capitalism, but at that more general level it was easier to write convincingly about all the bad stuff that was happening, than about solutions! The only way to get to grips with positive solutions was to take a very concrete topic and run with it.  With Sustainable Food Systems, this all came together.

Please tell us a bit about the process, from initial conception, to publication

Together with my colleague Yves Cabannes I started teaching a Masters module on Urban Agriculture, and there were also a few small community food-related action research projects.  This suggested a lot of ideas which I felt somehow needed to be written down.

But the project implies an unusual form of knowledge, drawing on both natural and social sciences.  While general systems theory was a help, I had to be respectful to the integrity of each specific discipline – soil science, anthropology etc. – even where I don’t have specialist training.  To ensure the research was solid, I embraced the peer-review process at several levels.  I started with a conference paper, delivered in Paris in 2012, and then split it into five journal articles and book chapters, all exploring different aspects of food-systems issues.  While I received much important feedback from the reviews on these papers, I was also myself doing quite a lot of peer-reviewing for journals.  And I could trust the peer-review system for the quality of research in the leading scientific journals which I was citing.

At the same time, the ‘new paradigm’, also implies deeper issues of fundamental world view.  In this sense, knowledge (or maybe we should say wisdom) should not be reduced to academic research.  The traditional/indigenous spirituality doesn’t see a distinction between nature and society anyway, it understands that our minds are part of nature, and correctly sees farming as intrinsically rooted in the wider ecosystemic context.  In this sense, visioning sustainable futures is also a return, to a more authentic way of apprehending the world and our place in it.Sustainable Food cover

Finally, the project implied a different publishing model.  Though there were enquiries from conventional publishing, I quickly rejected this when I realised that the form of publication must reflect the content: the book is about emergent order, self-organisation, commons regimes, peer-to-peer, grassroots research … therefore it had to be open-access.  I was delighted that UCL Press was thinking the same way.

What’s your take on organic food? Are you advocating it?

There are two issues here.  First, from a consumer angle, of course there are dangers from pesticides or loss of nutrients, which are rightly emphasised, but at the end of the day you might just say mainstream agriculture successfully feeds the world and the risk of changing it is too great.  So I would rather approach the question from the production angle: the main thing wrong with conventional farming is that it destroys the complex soil ecosystem and ultimately the soil itself, and therefore the risk of not changing it is too great.  We have a window of opportunity while there’s still enough food around.  That’s why the issue is urgent.

Secondly, ‘organic’ can often seem a negative definition, i.e. we limit ourselves by renouncing chemicals, which makes it seem like we’re farming with one hand tied behind our back.  I’d rather emphasise what we are opting into: a whole new world of biomimicry and self-organisation … that’s why I sometimes prefer a term like Natural Systems Agriculture.  Besides, the problem isn’t just chemicals, but a lot of other stuff: excessive ploughing, monocropping … Much of this is about how we face risk, because natural systems spontaneously evolve in response to shocks, and become stronger in doing so.

Surprise me with something unexpected you encountered in researching this book.

A couple of paradoxes, which are in fact closely linked:

[1] When looking for cutting-edge examples of the new paradigm in action – learning from nature, self-assembly and self-healing, not trying to control systems too much – I found them in areas like industrial design and materials science; farming in contrast, which you might expect to be our interface with nature, is still horribly conservative and stuck in the old ways. Wonderful research is being done, about soil systems for example, but translating this into an innovative, high-productivity, totally biomimicked farming practice: that’s not yet the mainstream, it’s still very peripheral.

[2] The countryside is so heavily depleted by herbicides, pesticides and monocropping, that cities are potentially havens for nature to regenerate itself: this has been beautifully demonstrated by green roofs, for example, and is potentially very encouraging for a programme of greening the city.  We might even pioneer the new paradigm here!

The book has an optimistic vibe, because it’s about solutions, and as you’ve said, some elements of ‘paradigm shift’ already underway.  So what’s blocking it?  And in particular, how do you interpret the recent Right-wing nationalist backlash.

In the book, I paraphrase a quote from Lenin, about the ruling system being dragged against its will into a new social order.  The shift in world politics towards the nationalist Right shows the system digging its heels in, frantically resisting the implications which its very own development has unleashed.  That’s the aspect internal to society.  But then there’s the environmental context: climate – plus soil-degradation and species-loss – forms the backdrop to everything.

So why is the nationalist Right addicted to climate denial? Because if we take climate seriously, we’d have to face up to the social conditions demanded by resilience: decentralised capacity, peer-to-peer networks, modularity, non-monetary exchange, commons regimes.  These are all evident in today’s food-related social movements – seed-sharing for example.  The issue is inevitably political: a new ‘order’ is a self-organised, emergent order.  That’s what scares the ruling interests.

So what about this term ‘food sovereignty’? That sounds nationalistic in a way…

I think it was always more about community autonomy.  But in a deeper sense, I take your point: we must dare to be normative, not just describe a movement like food sovereignty, but discover what it should be.  A lot about the ‘old’ food sovereignty was resisting the extreme neo-liberal agenda of ‘free’ trade and its disastrous implications for food, and that was all very necessary, but it was only a phase.  In the book I try to place this in a much broader historical context. You have millennia of resistance against exploitative agrarian systems, then against colonialism and imperialism, then against the ‘Green Revolution’ of the Cold War; at an English level, there is an unbroken legacy: the peasants’ revolt, the Diggers of 1649, early 19th century Chartists, the Land and Freedom movement of the 1970s, and some inspiring contemporary stuff. If the ruling agenda is today shifting away from ‘free’ trade, the enduring issues of commons and land rights haven’t changed.

At the same time, today’s food sovereignty must also face up to new challenges.  What has gone haywire (in society and its relations with nature) has been a narrowing, homogenisation, simplification.  Physically, this is seen in the shrinking variety of crops being cultivated, in the strains of each crop etc.; socio-politically this is seen in intolerance, xenophopia, the narrowing of discourses.  If that is permitted, we will have a system (in food, in society) which fractures and disintegrates in the face of shocks.

So if we are to respond to this threat, I would say – prolonging the book’s argument – that if political liberalism has in a sense destroyed itself by hitching itself to economic neo-liberalism, then the good things which used to be (very imperfectly) identified with liberalism must be regenerated on a new basis: tolerance, pluralism, what I’d call a ‘new cosmopolitanism’ … in essence a diverse system which can produce innovation from anywhere and which – when it faces shocks – will get stronger.

The movement over land and food can be a flagship for this.  Today, the academic and science community is trying to resist the attacks of obscurantism, but can’t do this alone: it needs mass allies.  This is precisely what the land/food-related struggles – of peasants, indigenous peoples, the urban masses – can supply; the academic world has important knowledge to offer, but it will also be itself transformed by discovering a new social relevance.

In these ways, researching the book, I got some kind of glimpse of a new world coming into being.  It’s exciting to feel part of this.

Sustainable Food Systems: The Role of the City is available to download for free here.

Institution as e-textbook publisher: New e-textbook ‘Key Concepts in Public Archaeology’

By Jaimee Biggins, on 21 February 2017

Key conceptsThis post was written as part of the JISC funded Institution as e-textbook publisher project. UCL Press outputs for this project include Key Concepts in Public Archaeology and Textbook of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

We launched our e-textbook, Key Concepts in Public Archaeology this week. This book appears on our innovative, browser-based HTML platform, and can be found here. This collection is edited by Gabriel Moshenska, Lecturer in Public Archaeology at UCL, and it brings together contributions from the dynamic field of public archaeology. It is aimed at both undergraduate and MA students and provides a broad overview of the central themes in public archaeology. The book also takes into account the growth of scholarship in this area from around the world and seeks to clarify what exactly ‘public archaeology’ is. The first nine chapters are now published, with more chapters to be added to the platform in the next few months allowing it to become an ongoing, evolving resource.  The chapters cover a variety of different areas such as ‘Community archaeology’ and ‘Digital media in public archaeology’ and feature a number of illustrative case studies.

The platform is published on has been specially developed by UCL Press in collaboration with the award-winning digital developer Armadillo and includes scholarly functionalities such as the ability to highlight, search, annotate, export and cite content as well as saving personalised copies of individual books. We believe these tools really add to the user experience and allow for a unique reading experience. We will also produce an open access PDF as well as a traditional print edition this summer. Alongside these formats, we are working with the digital developer YUDU to produce the complete textbook as an app. The app will offer another option for readers, featuring scholarly functionalities as well as animation.

Our Marketing and Distribution Manager is now promoting Key Concepts in Public Archaeology in the coming weeks using both traditional and online marketing channels including mailing lists, listservs, social media, the UCL Press website and other tools to promote the book as widely as possible. This is the second book UCL Press has published as part of the Jisc ‘Institution as e-textbook publisher’ project. As the final part of the project we’ll also be conducting surveys to gather feedback from students, lecturers and librarians about these books to assess how they have found the user experience, in order to inform UCL Press’s future textbook publishing strategy. We look forward to sharing these learning outcomes with the other participants in the project and contributing to the wider discussion about the future of academic textbook publishing.

The Museum, The Centenary, The Book

By Alison Major, on 4 June 2015

Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology cover

 Today’s guest post is written by Alice Stevenson, Curator of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian and Sudanese Archaeology.

About a year ago, it dawned on the staff of UCL’s Petrie Museum that the centenary of our opening was not far off. To mark the occasion the team decided that a souvenir publication would be fitting tribute for such an internationally renowned collection. Time to produce such a book, however, was short. Fortunately, UCL Press received the proposal positively and the scramble to pull together the volume began.

With upwards of 80,000 objects in the collection, more than a century of important discoveries and thousands of years of history to engage with, finding suitable content wasn’t hard. Deciding what could fit into 120 pages was. All that we could do was sketch out the contours of the museum’s holdings, from the Stone Age axes to the medieval and Islamic artefacts, and from the smallest trinkets to the largest monuments. We also wanted to challenge assumptions about the nature of the collection because it is far broader than the term ‘Egyptian archaeology’ might popularly suggest: there are objects from Sudan, Korea, China, Greece, Palestine, Syria, India and Iraq for instance. Additionally, we sought to showcase the unusual: artefacts made from extra-terrestrial materials, objects fished out from dark, flooded burial chambers and long-lost things rediscovered in unlikely places.

Image from Petrie book

What really drove the story-telling, however, were the characters whose lives became entangled with the museum’s history. They include the adventurous Flinders Petrie, a man who Lawrence of Arabia once described as ‘enormous fun’ and who Howard Carter credited as turning him into a true excavator; Margaret Murray, an Egyptology lecturer at UCL and a significant influence on the development of Wicca; Gertrude Caton-Thompson, a pioneering archaeologist who went on to prove that Great Zimbabwe was the work of indigenous Africans; and Ali Suefi, Flinders Petrie’s Egyptian right-hand man and discoverer of many of the most prized objects in the museum.

To even attempt to do justice to this eclectic assemblage and history requires many voices and a range of expertise. It is therefore thanks to all of our contributors for swiftly penning their sections, to UCL Press and Media Services for their professionalism and to the Friends of the Petrie Museum for financial support, that this publication has come together in such good shape and on such a tight deadline. And with over 1300 Open Access downloads in the first week, we’re off to a great start!

Alice Stevenson, Curator, The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology