Ninevah Relief

The British Schools of Archaeology Abroad


Britain funds a number of Schools, Institutes and Learned Societies to undertake research into the archaeology and heritage of a number of foreign countries. So do a number of other major European and foreign countries. The Schools and Societies receive a grant from the British Academy to undertake this work. In recent years, other scholars in the humanities have criticised the giving of this money to the Schools and Societies as special funding for archaeology.

What are the British Schools and Societies of Archaeology?

There were 8 British Schools of Archaeology abroad sited in capital cities. These were; Rome, Athens, Ankara (Turkey), Amman (Jordan), Baghdad (Iraq), Tehran (Iran), Kabul (Afghanistan) and Nairobi (Kenya). There were also 3 learned societies (South-Asian, South-East Asian, Libyan Studies, Egypt Exploration Society). The learned societies were (part-)funded by the British Academy and had the job of promoting and managing research within an area. They do not have residences abroad, nor do they have paid full-time staff. (Their core costs are hence lower).

The Current Schools, Institutes and Societies

Background History

The British Schools, Institutes and Societies were set up in the latter half of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century, to co-ordinate archaeological, historical and art historical research in their various countries. Some are very grand places. The British School in Rome is in a large Empire Style, Lutyens designed building in the centre of Rome. The British School in Athens is a large house in a plush district of central Athens - Colonaki. Others are simpler (i.e. Baghdad, Amman). Some also run hostels for students and scholars (Amman, Athens, Rome)

They were all administered by separate governing councils, but following the appointment of Mortimer Wheeler to the British Academy in 1947, they are now administered through the British Academy. Most have paid Directors and Assistant Directors as well as other paid staff where appropriate, such as housekeepers and librarians. The Governing Councils, however, is made up of unpaid academics with research interests in the countries concerned (Liverpool: Prof. Millard on the council of the British School in Amman; Dr Baird on the council of the British School in Ankara, and Prof. Mee on the council of the British School in Athens).

Despite their aspects in common, each School and Society has its own history and as a result its own peculiar management structure.

The Current State of the British Schools of Archaeology in 1995

The School in Tehran is currently closed. The money which used to be paid to the School in Tehran is now in direct research grants to scholars who can get visas to Iran. The British School in Baghdad, has been closed since the Gulf War (August 1990). There is still a paid housekeeper to look after the library in Baghdad. The United Nations forbids contact with Iraq, except in relation to the supply of essential medical and food supplies. The British School in Kabul is closed due to the Soviet invasion and the current civil war in Afghanistan (since 1979). The other British Schools and Societies are open for business as usual.

The Cost of the British Schools of Archaeology Abroad (1999 figures)

The British Schools, Institutes Overseas aand Socities are funded through a number of different channels. Funding comes from an annual grant given to them by the British Academy. Money also comes from membership fees, publications, the renting of accommodation, and so forth. For most of the Schools, the grant from the British Academy is the most important source of funding, but for others, such as the Egypt Exploration Society, this grant contributes a much small percentage of their funds.

The 1999 Figures for the Costs of the British Schools

School or Institute

Annual Grant1999-2000

The British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara

£ 315,000

The British School at Athens

£ 510,000

The British Institute in Eastern Africa

£ 234,000

The British School of Archaeology in Iraq

£ 40,000

The British Institute of Persian Studies

£ 55,000

The British School in Rome

£ 772,000

The Council for British Research in the Levant

£ 350,000

The Egypt Exploration Society

£ 87,000

The Society of Libyan Studies

£ 60,000

The School of South-Asian Studies

£ 70,000

The Committee for South East Asian Studies

£ 65,000

(The Council for British Archaeology)

( £ 231,000 )

The Schools cost £2.815 million per year to run in 1999-2000 (figures from British Academy Review July-December 1999). The budget for the Schools covers the administrative and staff costs, building and maintenance costs. It also includes money for research grants and scholarships that they give to british students and scholars for work in their country.

Individual annual accounts for the Schools are sometimes available on their websites.

What research do the Schools and Institutes undertake and is it important?

The British Schools each have their own research specialities. Rome (classical, medieval and some prehistoric) and Athens (classical and prehistoric), Egypt (Ancient Egypt). Athens has made significant contributions to the archaeology of Greece and the application of scientific techniques of analysis in the Fitch Laboratory. Rome specialises in Classical Archaeology and Fine Arts - it has a series of studios for painters, etc. Ankara specialises in archaeology. There has often been a perception that the research of the Schools is parochial, without any real direction and not making a contribution to the wider field.

Other Schools / Institutes of Archaeology Abroad

Britain is not the only country to have Schools of Archaeology abroad. Germany, France, Italy and the United States of America do, and even Finland has an Institute in Athens. These other schools do not seem to be under threat. They are sometimes also significantly better funded.

In Rome, there is a Spanish School of History and Archaeology, a Danish Institute, a German Archaeological Institute, a Belgian Academy, and an American Academy. In Athens there is a similar range of international academies. They are all usually European/American though.

Conflict over the Value of the British Schools and Societies

Does the work of the British Schools of Archaeology abroad represent value for money ? If not, do we get them to pull their socks up, or do we close them down and distribute the moneys elsewhere?

The competing parties in this debate put forward the following arguments in their favour

The British Schools believe that:
they can represent excellent value for money and that they are fine ambassadors for Britain abroad. With improvements they can be fit for the next 100 years. They would also argue that they do more research than their money would allow others to do. Value-Added-Research: good will from universities - unpaid Secretaries, editors of journals, etc.
Opponents (other people in the humanities) believe that:
the British Schools of Archaeology are a Colonial relic from the days when Britain had more money than it does now, and when the historical/ archaeological skills of other countries were poorly developed. The money spent on the British Schools cannot now be justified: it could be better spent elsewhere, in other parts of the humanities research programme.

In a Broader Context: funding is hard to get hold of for everyone, so why should archaeology have such earmarked funds? It no longer has such funds for scientific archaeology, and must compete against the rest.

The General Context: Higher education is expanding and all aspects are under pressure to deliver a better service (student numbers, research quality and teaching quality) for the money which is spent on it. They are also under pressure to bring in outside funding. Money is in short supply and what is there is much sought after. The Humanities and the Arts cannot easily bring in external funding as is the case many of the Sciences because there is no direct commercial benefit to humanities research. Government grants are the main source of funding.

The British Academy Review of the Schools and Institutes (1995)

The British Academy reviews its spending options every 10 years. In 1995 it was the turn of the British Schools and Societies of Archaeology to be reviewed. The review committee was headed by Sir David Wilson (ex-head of the British Museum). The British Academy gave David Wilson the brief to review the good and bad points of each of the Schools and Societies in turn. He made significant recommendations for individual schools and for the whole group in general.

General Recommendations

The Current Funding Context

The humanities in Britain are now funded through a new funding council (the Arts and Humanities Research Board - AHRB) which has more money to give away than the old sums allotted to the British Academy. The arguments about the privileges of the Schools have largely now abated, but there is still a lot of bad feeling in general about the 'extra' funding that seems to be going to archaeology.

The British Academy still administers its grants to the British Schools. Monies are now separated into core and research funds (per school), with opportunities for the individual schools to compete against each other for a share of research funds common to the Schools.

What other questions might have been asked in this review?

What about centralised project funding?

Do we need to keep the facilities that we have at present, or should we start from a clean sheet?

Information on Specific British Schools

In production

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