CARMEN Annual Meeting in Prague is approaching! Join us in the beautiful...

» more

The Summer School of Medieval Studies (Letní škola medievistických studií) is held...

» more

After the successful reading event last year, CARMEN prepared reading for the...

» more

Report from European Alliance for Social Sciences and Humanities Meeting in Amsterdam, 20 Dec 2011

The European Alliance for the Social Sciences and Humanities held a founding meeting in Amsterdam on 20 December 2011. About thirty organisations were represented, with 35 persons present, plus a half-dozen apologies. The prompt for the meeting had been the near-disaster in 2010 when the EU had decided to exclude the social sciences and humanities for future ‘framework programme’ funding (the next one being called ‘Horizon 2020’). A successful campaign led to the EU commissioner, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, announcing at the British Academy on 10 November that a new research line would be opened, specifically suitable to social scientists and humanities scholars. However, it was clear that social sciences and humanities needed a more co-ordinated, powerful lobbying approach in Brussels.

 The Alliance aims to bring together cross-European research agencies (like the ESF – being rebranded as ‘Science Europe’, and HERA-Net), international and European university consortia (e.g. the LERU group of humanities deans; RISE for social sciences), major multidisciplinary national research organisations, and a range of European or global subject-based scholarly societies (under which CARMEN was invited).

 At the outset, some key figures were presented: 

  • The current seven-year (7th) Framework Programme allocates research grants of over €7000m per year, of which the social sciences and humanities (SSH) benefit about €90m per year. This, as we know, is largely ‘policy-driven’, based on themes broadly defined by Brussels, and are massive in scope (at least for humanities scholars).
  • EU research funding represents only 5% of the total research funding in Europe. In other words, 95% of research funding is allocated by the member countries’ own research agencies. However, there are increasing moves and pressures to co-ordinate these – to generate efficiencies, and leverage benefits. In practical terms, national agencies will be more and more focusing on topics that get defined together at a European level, or in multi-lateral agreements (e.g. between the British AHRC and the German DFG and the Dutch NWO). So, increasingly, national topics will be influenced by priorities or ‘Grand Challenges’ agreed at international levels.
  • The social sciences and humanities represent about a third (ca. 380,000 of 1.2m) of researchers in public-sector higher education institutions.
  • The ‘Europe 2020’ research vision focuses on three pillars:
  1. Science Base – this will mean funding via the European Research Council for cutting-edge research (Starter Grants or Research Grants for individual scholars to build up research teams/laboratories), the Marie Curie training programmes, etc.
  2. R&D in businesses
  3. Tackling Grand Societal Challenges – topics as: i. health, demographic change and well-being; ii. food-security and bio-based economy; iii. secure, clean and efficient energy; iv. smart, green and integrated transport; v. resource efficiency and climate action;

vi. inclusive, innovative and secure societies – this sixth item was specifically added for the SSH community, thanks to this year’s lobbying work, though there is the danger that it gets taken over by the ‘security’ interest-groups and the €5000m of money that was intended for SSH might then easily drift away. The EU research commissioner described this Challenge as: ‘firmly aimed at boosting our knowledge of the factors that foster an inclusive Europe, help overcome the current economic crisis and the very real concerns that people have; that identify the links between the European and global context, and that encourage social innovation’.

The meeting also involved the groups introducing themselves. From a medievalist’s perspective, it was interesting to see that of about 25 societies invited and attending, only three were strictly humanities: musicology and religious studies, plus medieval studies. The others were pure social sciences (education, anthropology, sociology, social development, demographics, politics, etc.) or those which have feet in both camps: urban history, gender studies, language and comparative literature. Most of these societies were either predominantly institutional (with say 50-350 members) or individual (with say 200-2000 members), but most were quite modest in size. In that respect Medieval Studies clearly surprised other participants by virtue of its size (CARMEN’s network extending to 12000 of 20000 professional practitioners).

Certain lessons became clear:

1) The ‘fragmentation’ of the humanities and the comparative lack of European or global organisation of disciplines or subject-areas in the humanities puts these fields at a great disadvantage in presenting a unified voice to the European power-brokers. On the other hand, the comparatively highly-organised field of Medieval Studies might have a role to showcase itself as the partner to represent ‘pre-modern European studies’ in any European funding project.

2) This forum is a perfect platform for CARMEN to promote the interests of medievalists. This European alliance can allow CARMEN to build contacts with organisations across the Social Sciences. The ideal scenario is to have one CARMEN representative actively participating in all its activities, networking on behalf of CARMEN’s own participants.

3) This organisation will serve as a powerful lobby-group in Brussels (at the level of the directorate-general of research in the European Commission) and at Strasbourg, meeting European members of parliament. Several of the key people in this alliance are experienced and well-connected in this field and can be powerful advocates on our behalf, if fed the right information from the likes of CARMEN.

4) The next steps involving registering this new organisation, constructing a light-weight ‘constitution’, and holding an annual meeting during 2012.