Institute 75th Anniversary Summer Party

As part of the Institute's 75th Anniversary celebrations, a Summer Party for current Institute of Archaeology students and alumni, coinciding with the announcement of results for undergraduate finalists took place on 8 June. The event was opened with speeches by the current Director, Stephen Shennan, which is reproduced here, and former Director David Harris.

Prof Stephen Shennan giving a speech at the Institute's 75th Anniversary Summer Party

Director's speech

"It’s a very great pleasure to welcome you all here this evening. We’ve had many anniversary events this year. They’ve included a very well-attended series of Professorial inaugural lectures, a public recognition of the academic excellence of our staff, and a series of debates on archaeology and heritage, emphasising our development over the last 15 years of a major role in discussion and debate about archaeology’s social context in the 21st century.

Most recently, a few weeks ago, we had a visit from Princess Anne, echoing the visit she made for the 50th anniversary. As she left I invited her back for our 100th! But this definitely counts as THE Institute 75th Anniversary Party.

Like all anniversaries this one is an opportunity to both look back and look forward. Nearly everyone here has either worked at the Institute or been a student here at some time and many of you will know far more about the history of the Institute than I do. I’m very proud of that history and make a point of saying something about it to all our new students when they arrive. The Institute has been massively influential, as a pioneer in such fields as environmental archaeology, conservation studies, museum studies, archaeometallurgy, and more recently public archaeology, not to mention the national and international impact on the field of individuals such as Wheeler, Childe, Grimes, Kenyon, Zeuner and du Plat Taylor. Sadly, two of those leading figures – John Evans and Rachel Maxwell-Hyslop – have recently passed away.

Prof David Harris giving a speech at the Institute's 75th Anniversary Summer Party

I think the Institute’s most important contribution though, is all the students, from all over the world, who have been taught here since its foundation, in keeping with Wheeler’s initial aims. They – you – are part of a continuing community, marked by its exceptional loyalty to the Institute. I think one of the reasons for that loyalty is our commitment to teaching and to students, embodied here for many years now by Judy Medrington, but of course dependent on the efforts of all staff, past and present, and so many of our students, who have contributed as officers of the SAS, student mentors, and teaching assistants, to all of whom I’d like to express my gratitude. These days this sort of thing is reflected in published league tables and it’s no accident at all that for the last couple of years the Institute has had a score of 100% for overall satisfaction in the National Student Survey and that we consistently sit at or very near the top in the various university guides, most recently coming top of the Guardian Archaeology league table for the third year in a row.

Those of you who haven’t been in close touch with the Institute for a while may be interested in some current statistics. Not counting the Field Unit, about which I’ll say a bit more in a minute, we have nearly 100 staff, including over 50 permanent academics, making us by far the largest department in the country. We have more than 600 students, in recent years from more than 40 different countries, made up of roughly 200 undergraduates, 150 PhD students and 250 Masters students, on 20 different Masters degrees.

The Field Unit, now the Centre for Applied Archaeology, in recent years under Dominic Perring’s leadership, has expanded to well over 40 staff, and, as well as working in Sussex and elsewhere in SE England, now also works in Abu Dhabi, China and Kazakhstan.

Prof Stephen Shennan giving a speech at the Institute's 75th Anniversary Summer Party

In the past year UCL Qatar has been set up – in effect a branch of the Institute – directed by Thilo Rehren, previously Professor of Archaeological Materials and Technology at the Institute, which will teach Masters degrees in Conservation, Museum Studies and Arab and Islamic Archaeology.

So what are we committed to these days? Despite the massive scale at which we now operate, we continue to be absolutely committed to providing an outstanding education to all of our students, and treating them as individuals. Among other ways this is reflected in the award of at least one of the Provost’s very limited annual Teaching Awards to IoA staff members in every year since they started.

Fieldwork has always been central to the Institute's teaching and research programmes, and we continue to be committed to the importance of fieldwork experience for students, starting with Prim Tech as the opening rite of passage for new undergraduates. Four days in tents in a wet field in Sussex occasionally costs us an Egyptology student who had rather warmer and drier expectations of archaeology, but continues to create enthusiastically-bonded cohorts, and engages arriving students with their immediate predecessors and staff, from the very start of their university experience. Where other universities have gradually whittled down their fieldwork requirement, ours continues to be 70 days, and we regularly place undergraduates on projects in countries world-wide, very often our own.

Current students and alumni gathered for the Institute's 75th Anniversary Summer Party

More generally though, we are committed to leading global archaeology in both our teaching and our research, and in leading an archaeology that is not inward looking but addresses the increasingly important challenges associated with the role cultural heritage and public archaeology play in economic development and in the creation of local and national identities all over the world. We are the only Archaeology Department in Britain, and I think the world, capable of taking such a global perspective and putting it into practice, both in terms of the ever-expanding range of different subdisciplines in the subject and geographically.

If you look at the world map of Institute projects in Archaeology International you’ll see it supports my claim. Just three outstanding examples are the work of Tim Williams and his colleagues at Merv in Turkmenistan, of Marcos Martinon-Torres, Andy Bevan and colleagues at the Terracotta Army Museum in China and Sue Hamilton and colleagues on Rapa Nui, Easter Island. This does not mean though that we’re neglecting British Archaeology. Our commitment there has been recently strengthened by the appointment of Mike Parker-Pearson to a new Chair in British Later Prehistory. He will start in August.

However, there’s no denying that this 75th anniversary comes at a critical point for the future of the Institute. As with all tertiary education in the United Kingdom, we’re heading into very difficult times financially for both students and academic institutions – it seems likely that some Archaeology Departments won’t survive. We won’t be one of those, but at the moment we’re second to none in the world in my view, and the Institute’s aim must be to stay at the forefront of archaeology and heritage studies (meant in the widest sense) and be able to maintain its global range and its comprehensive coverage of its sub-disciplines, as well as continue to provide the best possible support for our outstanding students at all levels.

Institute 75th Anniversary Goodie Bag

One of the main reasons we are up there at the moment is the generosity of past benefactors. For example, the Wolfson labs in the basement are central to our pre-eminence in archaeological materials science. The legacies and gifts of previous donors provide the funding for our Institute of Archaeology Awards, the internal small grant scheme entirely under our control, that provides funding for staff and student fieldwork and other research, especially seed-funding for subsequent larger scale projects, many of which wouldn’t have got off the ground without this crucial initial support.

For these reasons I’ll be writing to you in the autumn to let you know how you can contribute to maintaining and enhancing the Institute’s global position and its exceptional support for its students. The founding of the Institute was made possible by a donation from Flinders Petrie at a time when state support for such institutions hardly existed. As state support now decreases we will only be able to maintain our position through our first century and beyond with your continuing support and generosity.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Andrew Reynolds, Kelly Trifilo, Charlotte Frearson and all the 75th Anniversary volunteers for all their hard work."

Prof Stephen Shennan, UCL, 8 June 2012

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