University of Manchester

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

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


Road Trip to Ardnamurchan on this Day of Archaeology!

Hi everyone, my name is Somayyeh and I am a Council for British Archaeology (CBA), Community Archaeology Trainee based with Archaeology Scotland. I graduated from the University of Manchester in July 2012 and not long after there were a number of CBA youth focused bursaries on offer. I applied to three and was asked for an interview with Archaeology Scotland, I must have done something right as I am currently nine months into my placement! I got into archaeology as a mature student after working in the financial services industry. I always loved history as a youngster which was passed onto me by my great grandmother. I did a bit of research into history degrees and noticed archaeology as another possibility, I am quite a practical person so felt this would be an even better way of combining my love of history with a fun subject! I fell in love with archaeology and came to understand that our history and heritage should be shared, protected and conserved for future generations. I have learnt so much in such a short space of time about the benefits of community archaeology and would like to stay in this area after my bursary ends.

On this day of archaeology I am driving from Musselburgh to Ardnamurchan so that I can lead a day of outreach for the Ardnamurchan Transition’s Project on Sunday. Whilst my actual day of archaeology isn’t overly interesting, the reason I am going is! I will be running a number of activities that will appeal to a wide audience but none more so than the younger generation. There will be finds handling, ancient technology with grinding of flour and a wood bow drill, there will be the opportunity for children to make their very own clay Thor amulet to take home and a geocache (treasure) hunt which will help the younger generation to see what kinds of objects might be left behind from a Viking occupation. The treasure hunt will also be a chance to explain the possible history of Vikings on the Ardnamurchan peninsula.

If you are interested in the work I have done so far, feel free to check out my blog at