SPMA response to the University of Sheffield review

Saturday 22 May 2021

Dear Professor Lamberts,

I am writing to you on behalf of the Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology (SPMA) – Europe’s leading professional society for the archaeology of the modern world – to express our concerns over the review of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield.  It is our understanding that the University Executive Board is meeting on Tuesday the 25th of May to consider three options:

To support and invest in the Department.
To close the Department, with all staff made redundant.
To retain archaeology as a subdiscipline but not as a department. Two key areas of perceived ‘strength’ (encompassing approximately four staff) to be realigned to other cognate departments. All the remaining staff to be made redundant.

SPMA strongly believes that options 2 & 3 would have a detrimental impact on both British archaeology and the reputation of the university.  Sheffield’s archaeology department has an excellent international reputation, and its willingness to engage in cross-period research synthesising data from late antiquity through to the early modern period is a particular strength.  Its reputation in bioarchaeology is also important in this context, allowing for the integration of data from fieldwork, artefact work, and bioarchaeology; few British departments can match this offer.  The Sheffield archaeology department has also made important contributions to urban regeneration in Sheffield itself, notably through its work to recover and promote Sheffield Castle.  This is therefore a department that is both internationally engaged and relevant to its local community.  The department’s excellent international and domestic reputation is one of the key reasons why SPMA decided to hold its 50th anniversary Congress at the University of Sheffield in 2016.

We would also note that archaeology more broadly forms a key part of the development process, with archaeological intervention often required before infrastructure development.  However, the UK government currently lists archaeology as a skills shortage occupation eligible for high-priority skills shortage visas.  We believe that the response to this skills crisis should be to strengthen archaeology and archaeological training in our world-leading departments like Sheffield rather than to further contribute to the shortage by closing these departments, or realigning a limited number of staff in other departments.

SPMA therefore urges the University of Sheffield to support and invest in a department that contributes so much to British archaeology both at home and internationally.

Sincerely Yours,

Dr Alasdair Brooks BA MA DPhil

President, Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology