ERC Study Grant
Your Tax Euros at Work
by Peter Tompa
The archaeological blogs are all agog over the news that the EU funded European Research Council has given a 1 million Euro grant to some well known academics with an axe to grind against collectors to sharpen their axe further.
The publicity for the grant does not suggest anything that even remotely resembles academic detachment. For more, see http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/scotland-blog/2012/feb/13/glasgow-team-gets-1m-grant-to-study-illegal-trade-in-antiquities and http://www.thescottishsun.co.uk/scotsol/homepage/news/4128514/Saviour-of-the-Lost-Ark.html
Under the circumstances, the European Research Council should be embarrassed if its goal really is to fund high quality research into pressing issues, particularly given the tremendous financial problems facing cultural establishments in countries like Greece and Italy. I suspect the money could be better spent helping these countries take care of what they already have rather than to fund yet another study which will just be used to justify more repatriations.
As it is, by the looks of it, this study will have about as much credibility as one funded by big Pharma to justify sales of a new drug, no one actually needs. It is, however, part of a trend. Get a governmental entity to fund an anti-collector study by academics with an axe to grind, and use it to help justify further government action and spending on cultural bureaucracies. Other recent examples include the sole source contract to ICOM to prepare the Egyptian Red list.
Perhaps a governmental entity should fund a study on the damage caused by development, corruption, underfunding, and inept management of cultural resources. Or, what about another about how collectors help preserve and study the past without any government funding whatsoever. Not likely though, as such studies would be an anathema to the nanny state.
A notorious anticollecting blogger commented on this post to Tompa's blog, suggesting that it is somehow inappropriate to suggest that " tackling the illegal trade is NOT helping nations to look after sites and monuments?" He also remarked that "This of course is money set aside for research - not maintenance, which comes out of separate funds."
Tompa's point was that the likelihood of anything resembling constructive, useful, investigative research actually resulting from such studies is remote, and that there is every reason to think that the results will instead be yet another repetitive, sterile rehash of previously published material attacking private collecting of antiquities and the trade that supports it.