David Pearson, Director, University of London Research Library Services (ULRLS) drew attention in his welcoming remarks to the problems libraries face. All University of London research libraries run at a deficit. The average library spend by CURL member libraries rose from £8.5 million in 2004-205 to £9.6 million in 2005-06 and libraries shave to handle an increasingly wide range of resources. David drew attention to the SAS-Space project, their institutional repository, of which more below. He wondered if the arts and humanities were not more backward when it came to self-archiving than other subjects. He also warned of the decline in languages in schools and universities. Languages, he felt, are a prime candidate for collaboration, but collaborative collection management is always popular until an institution is asked to give something up.
He then introduced a panel discussion and open forum on trends in French/Hispanic/Italian studies research and implications for resource provision. The first speaker was Trevor Dadson, Professor of Spanish at Queen Mary, who reported from the Arts and Humanities Research Council Postgraduate Panel panel. Today’s postgraduates are tomorrow’s researchers and academics, so the results have important implications for staffing and for the future of the disciplines.
Across all languages, between 80 and 90% of applications were in post-1950 subjects, and many ignored book-based subjects in favour of film, cultural studies and the visual arts. Applications also showed little originality, and showed evidence of excessive supervisory influence. He wondered if institutions would have the right resources to support these applications, and whether staffing was adequate. Increasingly Spanish nationals are recruited by British universities to teach the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. He also felt that many of the applications were unsuitable for the AHRC and were more with in the scope of the Economic and Social Research Council.
Then Jane Everson, Professor of Italian at Royal Holloway, reported from the AHRC research panel. One of the difficulties the panel has is in judging applications where one has no experience. There are many also PhDs in modern languages which are not supported by AHRC, and she endorsed Trevor Dadson’s point about applications that fall into the ESRC’s remit. In Italian, a smaller discipline, the medieval period, above all the writers know as the Tre Corone, Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio, is still central, and she praised the Bodleian’s recent exhibition, Italy’s Three Crowns. Increasingly Italian nationals, including medievalists, are being appointed to British university posts. Electronic resources are well developed, particular in Dante and Boccaccio studies: see for example Brown University’s Decameron Web or Princeton’s Dante Project.
The visual arts remain strong, as does 16th century lyric poetry. Popular themes include women, censorship, driven perhaps by the opening up of the Inquisition’s archives, the holocaust, translation studies and detective fiction. There is a big historical gap, with very little interest in the 17th, 18th, or 19th centuries, in contrast to Italy itself where the 19th century remain strong. In the Italian tradition, the preparation of a critical edition remains an important part of a scholar’s career.
Book-focussed research remains important and there is interest in work on secondary figures in Italian literature, cinema (though not yet photography), linguistics, immigrant writing, identity, both regional versus national, national versus European and European versus the wider world, comparative culture, exile and, last but not least, food; see for example UCL’s Cappuccino Conquests project . In questions Jane was asked whether modularisation could be blamed for the lack of contextual knowledge displayed by applicants, She felt that, yes, it might, or the excessive emphasis on illusory choice in the undergraduate curriculum.
Eleanor Quince of Southampton presented the results of the AHRC Review of research in modern languages undertaken for the AHRC by the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies, an attempt to analyse the intellectual health of the subject area. There are around 2,000 active researchers and 2,500 postgraduates in the field, something which will change as the decline in undergraduate numbers works its way through. There has also been a migration of some linguists out of modern languages, growth in collaborative research, a rise in applied language research, and in interest in intercultural communication and in interpreting and translation studies at postgraduate level. Literature is still a focus, but interest is declining in schools and among undergraduates; gender, post-colonial and cultural studies remain strong. From a chronological point of view, the Cinderella centuries, that is to say the 17th and 18th, are in danger of disappearing altogether. Objects of study are changing, with ICT allowing the development of online editions, and research growing in new genres such as sports literature or graphic novels, while textual criticism is in peril.
Eleanor didn’t mention it, but for me, by far the most interesting element of the report is the analysis of modern languages publishing in part 4 Trends in dissemination.
Michael Moriarty, Professor of French at Queen Mary, gave a British Academy perspective, and drew attention to the BA's response to Dearing .
He was concerned that many resources in the field were not sufficiently known or used, for example CESAR, the Calendrier électronique des spectacles sous l’ancien régime et sous la révolution . He warned of insularity, and that poor language skills, even at postgraduate level, meant a great deal of teaching is now done through translation. To check the availability of sources in their original language, he had run a check on the British Library catalogue and those of the University of London (I was unclear whether he had used the University of London Research Library Services catalogue for this or the M25 consortium’s cross-searching tool ) for French editions of the works of three authors, Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser and Alain Badiou, with disappointing results. I should be interested to see this exercise repeated on COPAC for a national picture of availability of these texts, indeed would also be interested to see what institutions’ collection development policies say on the matter.
The last member of the panel to speak, who discussed the Research Assessment Exercise, was Margaret Atack, Professor of French at Leeds. The RAE has rescued modern languages from vocationalism, she claimed, and referred to HEFCE’s review of the impact of quality-related (QR) funding for research in English higher education institutions . In modern languages there was consistency across subjects, but most research is concentrated in the modern period. There is some interest in new areas such as film studies. The age profile of researchers suggests that appointments are not keeping pace with retirements. There is some concern that opportunities for publishing are diminishing, but there are increasing opportunities for e-publication, including in repositories and an increase in inter-disciplinary and collaborative work.
After lunch David Lowe of Cambridge University Library chaired a session on projects, with presentations by Stephen Bury on the British Library's Content Strategy, Zoë Holman and Richard Davis of the School of Advanced Study, University of London) on the SAS-SPACE institutional repository and Ed King also of the British Library on the BL/JISC Newspaper Digitisation Project This last project will take an impressive range of 19th century British newspapers and make them available online, but we were dismayed to hear that access would be restricted to users in further and higher education. See more here on the matter: https://tomroper.typepad.com/tr/2007/09/british-library.html
In a final session on resources, chaired by Geoff West of the British Library, we heard a fine report by Vanya Murray, of Oxford University Library Services on researching film: changes and challenges, a fascinating look at establishing a new service, including some of the issues of classification and certification, format issues, cataloguing and classification standards. There’s some resources based on her guide at: https://languagelearningcentre.wordpress.com/2007/09/13/film-studies-resources/
Stephen Hart, Professor of Hispanic Studies at UCL, spoke on sourcing material for the study of a living author: compiling a new biography of G. García Márquez an insight into the problem faced by the biographer who chooses to tackle a living subject. The sources available to him included García Márquez’s own radio interviews, documentaries, journalism and his attempt at autobiography, Vivir para contarla as well as interviews with friends, family and servants. But García Márquez is elusive, enigmatic and some times self-contradictory. There is also another biography by Gerald Martin due to appear soon.
Finally Sally Curry, the CURL/RIN Collaborative Collection Management Programme Advisor spoke on supporting engagement with the research community through Collaborative Collection Management and the developments towards a British distributed research network. Libraries face problems if space, of budgets, of a loss of specialists and a lack of institutional support. CCM covers selection and purchase, stock transfers, resource discovery and storage (the UK Research reserve) and shared retro-conversion and digitisation. She mentioned the CoCoRUPS project a qualitative survey of researchers behaviour in medieval and early modern studies, and the Research Information Network's study Researchers Use of Academic Libraries and their Services . Visits to collections are declining, and when researchers use electronic resources they may not automatically identify them as having been provided by the library I was interested to see that collaborative collection management seems not to have advanced very much since the days we were doing it in the ASVIN project