Fighting for survival: PhD student experience at the University of Manchester

This final Day of Archaeology finds me busy and distracted. I am roughly at the half way point in my part-time PhD at the University of Manchester, but as the department falls quiet with academic staff dispersing across the globe to introduce undergraduate and post-graduate students to archaeology as diverse as Convict era Tasmania, Neolithic Herefordshire and the multi-period site of Ardnamurchan, Scotland, senior managers at the University are busy trying to decimate the department by getting rid of 50% of the already small staff of 8.

The M2020 ‘vision’ includes making 171 members of staff redundant, including a spectacular attack on the department of archaeology, which is due to suffer a disproportionate cut to staff numbers. If we are left with just 4 members of staff, the department is likely to merge with Classics, and unlikely to be able to continue running the single honours BA degree. The MA course has already been scrapped from 2018. With 15 PhD students currently enrolled, 4 members of staff are unlikely to be able to offer appropriate supervision, let alone provide the breadth of expertise expected, or needed.

The staff at Manchester have been vocal in their opposition not only of the plans, but also the way in which they have been implemented. In correspondence the M2020 project team have insisted that the changes will ‘improve the student experience’ yet it is difficult to see how slashing staff numbers will achieve this. The Archaeology department has an unparalleled reputation for positive student experience and at the moment is the only subject in the University to have 100% student satisfaction. It is also the only Archaeology department in the UK to achieve this figure. In recent years, our staff have won four University wide awards for teaching excellence, in the fields of Social Responsibility, Mental Health Champion, Best E-Learning Experience, and Best Communicator. From the perspective of the PhD students the proposed cuts will do nothing but irreversible harm to the department. 

So on this day of archaeology I urge you to please sign our petition against the planned redundancies and have a look at the letters of support for University of Manchester staff and in opposition to the proposed staff cuts at https://resistrestructuringmcr.wordpress.com/

In other news, my day has also involved the more normal activities of a PhD student. I’ve been reorganising my methodology chapter, written a bit of book review and been trawling through some 1891 Census records. I am looking for the people who lived close to the Chelsea Embankment shortly after its construction. I’m interested in the differences in the socio-economic make up of the community in the pre- and post-embankment periods, trying to work out how the Embankment construction and associated removal of working class housing and waterfront businesses affected them. I’ve been creating maps, based on historical maps and documents, to visualise where people lived and worked, looking for the places they may have moved around, between and within. The map below plots out residential buildings-coloured according to Booths Maps of London Poverty, blue = poor, red=well to do/comfortable, yellow=independently wealthy. In addition the multi-coloured blocks on Royal Hospital Road, formerly Queens Road, indicate a variety of businesses and shops, whilst the coloured areas on the foreshore relate to archaeological remains I surveyed last year.

 

2017 OS map with 1891 residential buildings, businesses, parks identified. 19th century archaeological remains on the foreshore as surveyed by H. Steyne 2016.

Whilst I’m unable to make any conclusions yet, I’m encouraged by the diversity in the population close to the river front, and to the co-location of archaeological remains with former businesses on the waterfront. The impact of losing these sources of employment must have been enormous for this community.

So, whilst on the one hand I despair and worry about the future survival of my department, I am steadily plodding through data for my own research. All the while wondering whether I’ll still be a Manchester University student this time next year. Let’s hope so.

Please sign our petition. Thank you.

You can find more about me here and my research here

 

Part-time PhDing, parenting & computer fails

The Day of Archaeology is Friday 29th July 2016, a day that I usually spend with my 3 year old son. So, instead I am writing about what I am doing today, Thursday 28th, which is slightly more archaeologically focused.

I am a PhD student at the University of Manchester, studying part time, and doing childcare the rest of the time. My research is on the social and economic impacts and effects of the construction of the Thames Embankment at Chelsea in the 1870s. You can read more about my work here.

When I signed up for the Day of Archaeology I had anticipated that I would be processing my fieldwork survey data, and that my blog entry would include writing about some of the interesting features I had found, photographed and inspected on the Chelsea foreshore.

Barge bed on the Chelsea foreshore (Photo: Hanna Steyne)

19th century chalk barge bed on the Chelsea foreshore (Photo: Hanna Steyne)

Unfortunately, I have been experiencing some Windows 10 induced problems connecting to the University network, as I work from home most of the time, and have therefore been working on other things. They are, however, probably fairly representative of the work that archaeology PhD students and academic archaeologists get up to, and so I will tell you what I’ve been doing anyway.

Last year I accidentally offered to write a chapter about the Industrial Archaeology of Inland Waterways. I am always fairly militant about making sure that archaeological and heritage discussions include maritime and shipping perspectives, whether that is ensuring that the Transatlantic Slave Trade be discussed in exhibitions about cotton (I’m looking at you NT Quarry Bank Mill) or that a volume on Industrial Archaeology includes discussion about the significant role that inland water transport played in success of the industrialisation of Britain. And so I find myself filling a gap.

My chapter aims to place the canal and inland waterway network centrally in the field of industrial archaeology. It, hopefully, will provide a brief overview of their development in relation to industrialisation, a brief description of the archaeology of inland waterways, an overview of previous work and an assessment of the current state of research – not specifically in relation to the minutiae of canal workings, but more focused on the role of shipping and waterways within industrial archaeological research.

The topic should be fairly straightforward for me, given the site of my PhD research is an inland riverside port site. My background is in coastal and underwater archaeology, and as if by osmosis I have accumulated a general working knowledge of both coastal and inland ports. I also live very close to the Macclesfield and Peak Forest canals, but somehow this doesn’t seem enough to write about the complexities of canals and inland waterways in relation to industrialisation in Britain. As with most things in life, there is always more to learn. Anyway, I am writing it, and I shall not shirk the opportunity I have been given!

Whilst I am only part way through writing the chapter, my feelings are that inland waterways have been somewhat side-lined, in a manner reminiscent of coastal and maritime archaeology. Generally, inland waterways have not been of interest to maritime archaeologists, and yet because of their watery and boat related nature, have tended to be eschewed by terrestrial archaeologists within academic contexts. There are experts on canals, but much of the expertise seems to lie with non‑professionals or archaeologists in commercial units, much like Industrial archaeology more widely, and Maritime Archaeology in the olden days. This expertise is largely being developed ‘on the job’ as few UK Universities specifically teach post-medieval and Industrial Archaeology. Commercial archaeology is playing an important role in the contemporary study of canals and canal related infrastructure, and many other aspects of Industrial Archaeology, and there are many examples of excellent work – excavation, research and publication. With ever more regeneration (or gentrification depending on your perspective) projects in ex-industrial areas, many of which are close to or adjacent to canals and inland navigations, it will be interesting to see how an increasing demand for commercial archaeologists with expertise in the industrial period will be met with only a handful of UK universities teaching these periods. Anyway, I digress.

Writing a book chapter is a new and interesting experience for me. I have written journal articles before, but books, especially for edited volumes, seem to be quite a different kettle of fish. Where journal articles tend to present methodological developments, results of research, or specific theoretical ponderings, writing a book chapter seems to be more akin to essay writing. The aim being to present both an overview of current work, site types and yet also find space to include your own assessment and analysis of the current state of research and where you would like to see it go. All in 5000ish words. Handling such a small word limit also seems to be quite a challenge for me at the moment. The PhD process requires constant writing, but although I will be working on a specific chapter, I have not been paying too much attention to work limits. Instead I have focused more on ensuring that all relevant thoughts, tangents and ponderings are written down, concisely, with acceptance that they may or may not be included in the final write up. After working for four years in government, I thought I was pretty good at writing concisely. It seems two years of a PhD have undone this. Oh well.

The other thing I am working on today is also fairly typical of both PhD students and academics, but another first for me; writing a book review for publication. Excitingly, I was approached to write a review of Crossrail/MoLA’s book The Thames Iron Works 1837-1912 on the archaeological work at the Limmo Peninsula. Whilst the writing part is only 600-800 words and therefore should not take too long, I also actually have to read the book. Quickly! So, to the local café it is for tea, quiet and some serious critical reading.

Because neither of my tasks today involve pretty pictures, I have instead included some of the objects we found on the Chelsea foreshore! Hopefully I will be processing my survey data soon. I plan to update my own blog with results from fieldwork soon.

19th century objects on the Chelsea Foreshore (Photos Hanna Steyne & Daphne Keen).

19th century objects on the Chelsea Foreshore. Left: Thames Sailing Barge Rudder. Top Right: Small ceramic fragment. Bottom Right: Glass Container/Mortar (Photos Hanna Steyne & Daphne Keen).