Case Study: Arts and Humanities Workshop Award

“It was good to receive such a prestigious grant so soon after beginning my academic career. The research activity reinvigorated my national and international networks, professional and academic.”

Dr Sally Foster and Dr Katherine Forsyth received the RSE’s Arts and Humanities Workshop Award in 2014. This facilitated the production of an interdisciplinary research framework, focussed on the importance of carved stones and heritage to different interest groups.


Please can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Dr Sally Foster is a Lecturer in Heritage and Conservation at the University of Stirling. Her background is in archaeology and heritage management. She is Chair of the National Committee on Carved Stones in Scotland (NCCSS) <http://www.carvedstones.scot>.

Dr Katherine Forsyth is Reader in Celtic and Gaelic at the University of Glasgow. She has a long-standing interest in early medieval carved stones, especially epigraphy. She is a former Chair and Deputy Chair of the NCCSS.

Can you describe your project in no more than 50 words?

We produced Future Thinking on Carved Stones in Scotland: A Research Framework. This was a strategic effort to link, inspire, mobilise and help direct the diffuse communities with an interest in and responsibility for carved stones. It has wider relevance for how to design a research framework to make a difference on the ground.

Did the RSE Workshop grant award contribute to the success of your research project? If yes, how did it help?

While the resultant Research Framework had four lead authors (Foster, Forsyth, Dr Susan Buckham and Dr Stuart Jeffrey), its production involved much consultation and many critical friends, none of which would have been possible without the means to get everyone together for discussions. Our first two workshops focused on specific issues, digital recording of carved stones for research, and research and carved stones at ecclesiastical sites. We were able to bring scholars and curators together from England, Ireland, Scotland and Sweden. Workshop 3 was open to the public and explored future thinking on carved stones in Scotland more widely. Workshop 4 brought the lead authors and ScARF team together.

The grant also enable us to provide travel bursaries for five research students (from Manchester to the Orkney Islands) to attend Workshop 3.

What would you have done if you did not receive RSE funding?

While we could conceivably have tried to persuade Historic Environment Scotland to fund the work, the RSE grant enabled us to be more independent in our approach, and to give carved stones the immediate priority they deserved. Problem-led analysis steered by Foster had led to the NCCSS identifying the need for the Framework. We had a vision for something interdisciplinary and cross-cutting that differed from a ‘standard’ chronological research framework.

The RSE grant levered additional funding from HES.

What was your favourite part of the funded project?

The close teamwork. Of course we enjoyed working with everyone we met at workshops and sought input from, but the lead authors went on an inspiring intellectual journey in a very collaborative way. We spent a lot of time getting the structure ‘right’. Then, with lead authorships assigned, timescales agreed and a shared drive (and protocol for sharing files etc..,) we worked phenomenally hard to produce something we all take ownership of and are still incredibly proud of.

Were there any unexpected outcomes?

We produced a Research Framework that breaks the mould and is of greater relevance than carved stones. With carved stones a touchstone for wider attitudes to the historic environment and to heritage practices, because they cross so many boundaries, we knew they needed interdisciplinary approaches and cross-institutional action. Our solution was adopting the heritage cycle as a framework for discussing our ideas for the way forward. So, at the heart of our vision is research on the core themes of creating knowledge and understanding, understanding value, securing for the future, and engaging and experiencing. This means our Framework’s structure and thinking aligns with Scottish Government’s policy for the Historic Environment, Our Place in Time. With its explicit foundation on understanding value, including social value, we are seeking to contextualise research with societal needs. We think this is a first for such a research framework.

How did you disseminate your findings to your colleagues and/or the general public?

The Research Framework was published in August 2016 as a wiki, part of the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework. We recognised the need to produce a more popular and accessible introduction to the Framework, and in November 2017 launched Listen to the Stones, a popular summary booklet. We also recognised that some readers will find merit in reading the full Framework in a linear fashion, so nicely illustrated PDFs of the Framework’s 2016 full text and 39 case studies are also available to download from the website of the National Committee on Carved Stones in Scotland.

What do you plan to do now that the award has finished?

Promotion of the Research Framework and its recommendations is ongoing. We produced postcards and banners that we take to conferences, where we continue to give papers about the project. In March 2018, three of the lead authors presented a lunchtime seminar to HES staff. Working with the NCCSS, our ongoing focus is influencing the curatorial ‘gatekeepers’ for whom the Framework is relevant and who have the potential to make a difference. This includes heritage managers who engage with the wider public.

We are encouraging people to submit further case studies to the ScARF, and in due course the Framework will be updated. The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland is seeking to ensure that our Recommendations feed into the regional and other research frameworks that ScARF is producing.

Would you say that the award was helpful in terms of progressing your career? If so, how?

Absolutely. It was good to receive such a prestigious grant so soon after beginning my academic career. The research activity reinvigorated my national and international networks, professional and academic. It visibly confirmed my intent that research should be designed to make a difference on the ground, and hopefully provides an interdisciplinary and cross-cutting model for doing so in the future.

Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of applying for an RSE Arts and Humanities Award?

Devote time to thinking about how you will function successfully and efficiently as a team.

Think from the start about any complementary funding you will need – to widen access or promote your outputs to a wider audience.