In Defence of The Archaeology Department, The University of Chester.

Given how toxic, cliquey, and backbiting academia has become, whatever you may think of individuals at this institution, they are valued scholars and do not deserve to be treated as they have been. Moreover, there are wider concerns here. Therefore, please consider some of Dr Paul R Preston’s thoughts below and sign this petition (see link below).

(Screenshot of the Petition Website; Courtesy of the University of Chester)

As a prologue, while, in the political culture war-charged climate, His statement is bound to be misinterpreted and guaranteed to offend someone’s political sensibilities. That cannot be helped. It should be noted that the statement comes directly from a liberal (sensu Betham, Mill, Locke etc and not to be confused with left-wing as is used in America) moral philosophy based on individual equality, liberty, freedom of consciousness, thought and speech, democratic consent, and equality before the law (irrespective of sex, gender, ethnicity, or sexuality).  He rejects any bigotry of all forms including any ideology that relies on classing people by racial, ethnic, gender, sexuality groups. Thus, he, therefore, calls out abuses of history and archaeology from all realms of political discourses as he sees it.  After, all It is our job as Archaeologists and Historians! We, therefore, ask that before people condemn consider A) what he has written not what you think (i.e., via your political lens); b) he is dyslexic thus he is happy for the reader to query/clarify what he actually meant.

“While traditionally, universities have been idea factories/ for blue skies research, more and more universities seem to be falling into the erroneous position of viewing themselves as vocational employment trainers. Accordingly, this resulted in prioritising what are perceived to be money-making subjects such as business studies at the expense of history, archaeology, and the like.  Indeed, both successive British governments and universities fundamentally misunderstand history and archaeology’s economic and social value. They especially fail to recognise the contribution that commercial archaeology makes to the economy and the vital role in the development of infrastructure and buildings in this country.

Similarly, they fail to appreciate scholars’ role to call out erroneous use of archaeology and history, political interference, and suppression of historical truths by governments. Indeed, both during the second world war and since then, independent academic study of history and archaeology have remained important as a counterpoint to nefarious political abuses and appropriation. For instance, there has been a tendency by certain political ‘schools of thought’ to the selectively appropriate archaeology and history (while suppressing contrary data) to justify political narratives or to suppress data to maintain orthodox national creation myths. Several examples come to mind:

One is the Nazi’s use of archaeology to justify racist Aryan theories.

The second is the subsequent misappropriation of history to promote Holocaust denial.

Thirdly, a tendency of certain political parties in Israel to selectively use archaeology to justify (re)occupation of lands ‘homelands’, all the while either misinterpreting other archaeological evidence or ignoring it altogether.

A fourth is the suppression and destruction of the archaeology of Armenian groups in Turkey and denial of the Armenian Genocide.

Fifthly is framing the history of the crusades to justify wars, anti-western xenophobia, antisemitism, or repressive societies by Islamists. 

A sixth example is the destruction of heritage, archaeology, and the suppression of history by extreme groups like the Taliban or ISIS and similar regimes to prevent questioning of their Ideology.

Seventh, the misuse of archaeology and science by denialist evangelical groups in America to justify bigoted biblical narratives or even the ‘Lost Cause’.

Eighth is the selective use of history and archaeology by right-wing groups in the West to claim and justify anti-immigration policies.

Perhaps a Ninth is the skewing of history (controversially by some scholars) to justify gender or racially far left based paradigms and narratives of political issues.  

Tenth and closer to home is the political manipulation or enforcement of politically accepted narratives through the deliberate defunding of historical and archaeological research and history teacher training, the removal of GCSE and A-level archaeology from school syllabuses, and the political manipulation of the national school curriculum to both promote orthodox national narratives and ‘good British citizenship and suppress any critique of it.

Similarly, and Eleventhly, certain left-wing political ideologies attempt to stifle or suppress what they consider non-politically correct historical scholarship instead of engaging it and demonstrating its falsehood.  It is possible to go on and cite more cases of abuse and appropriations.

Notably, one role of academia is to challenge such abuses.  Indeed, during the last 50 years and especially now, we need an independent academic faculty that can call out and correct such abuses through objective research and educating the public.  Thus, archaeology departments like at Chester University are vital to the country’s social, cultural, and economic well-being. Any attempts to close the department is a short-sighted, retrograde, and damaging step.

Furthermore, irrespective of the above, I know and highly respect many of the scholars at Chester).  The way they have been treated is not only uncaring but, in my humble opinion, completely unethical”.

Dr P R Preston 13/04/2021

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