Pimp my Grant Proposal

As I mentioned the other day, I’m hoping to do some Bronze Age research once my current project about Dark Ages magnate farms is done. The Swedish Research Council’s annual application deadline is less than two weeks from now, and I’ve put a grant proposal together. The project title is

In the Landscape and Between Worlds. Bronze Age Sacrificial Sites in the Lake Mälaren Area.

The text is just two pages, and it’s all about the research, no financial details. Dear Reader, I’d appreciate it if you would have a look and perhaps offer some constructive criticism!

Update 26 March: I’ve submitted now. Thanks everybody!

Comments

  1. #1 Bob O'H
    March 19, 2008

    OK, I’m not in archaeology, and i don’t know the Swedish system so I might be totally off base, but here goes…

    My first reaction is that the Importance section should come much earlier. Up until that point, it’s not clear why this is interesting. You also might want to try and expand the importance beyond Lake Mälaren. Link it to some big debate. Or what is done in ecology is to claim that the results will be of vital importance for conservation of biodiversity. At the moment the application looks like it’s of local concern, and might be better funded at the regional level.

  2. #2 J-Dog
    March 19, 2008

    I like your project as outlined and wish I could volunteer to help.

    However, since I am too old to still wield my shovel, trowel, dental picks and brush, I will send you an email with my thoughts on the one paragraph I thought could be “punched up”.

  3. #3 Martin R
    March 19, 2008

    Thanks Bob! The ordering of the sections are as per the Council’s spec.

    Sweden is a tiny place from a population perspective. There is no regional funding level. “The Lake Mälaren area” may sound provincial, but it’s the country’s population centre and includes the capital.

    Linking the proposal to some big debate sounds like a good tactic, but is hard for me to do here. a) Bronze Age scholars don’t seem to be debating much. They haven’t done so in the discipline’s main journal for decades. b) A “big debate” in a subject as small as Scandy archaeology involves maybe four people.

  4. #4 Mattias Niord
    March 19, 2008

    Well, I guess my limited expirience with this kind of grants applications makes my comments pretty reduntant, but it sure sounds like interesting stuff, Martin, since I have dabbled a bit with landscape archaeology a few years back.
    However, how about adding something about trying to get more on-site interaction with the general audience´, schools, even pre-school? Maybe having some cross-scientific about human-enviorment dependancy and it change etc…
    I guess my continued exponation to openair museums and interacting with public may affect my mind. However, if you need a darn good archaeological intermediator who also can dabble with osteology, you know where to find me.

  5. #5 Martin R
    March 19, 2008

    The public archaeology angle is really good if you try to get money from the Heritage Board or the County Archaeologist. But the Research Council, AFAIK, doesn’t care much about that.

  6. #6 Jason Failes
    March 19, 2008

    I don’t know how you did it, but this post has stayed at the very top of “Last 24 Hours” all day.

    Are you a diabolical hacker in your spare time, or is this a bug that the admins should know about?

  7. #7 Martin R
    March 20, 2008

    Whoops! What happened was this. At 09:20 EST, I posted the entry. Being somewhat a hurry, I thoughtlessly filled in the time in my home zone, which is six hours ahead of EST. So for six hours, this post looked like the newest one on the site to Moveable Type.

  8. #8 Mats
    March 20, 2008

    I’m not an archaeologist and have never recieved a grant, so don’t pay too much attention to what I think, but anyway… if I understand your project right, GIS is of central importance and if I would evaluate your project I may wonder if this guy really is capable of doing the appropriate GIS analyses (maybe your CV will solve this). I would also like to see links to other projects or some collaboration with other experts (in landscape archaeology or GIS, maybe?). The publication plan seems a bit vague and isn’t only one main manuscript from the project too low?

    Good luck!

  9. #9 Martin R
    March 20, 2008

    Woah Mats, a lot of new perspectives there! I have received many small grants, but never a big one from the Research Council like I am applying for now.

    1. GIS is a concept with a wide definition. Archaeologists demand very little to call something GIS: “plotting your data on maps in ArcGIS” is enough. Many of us start out as humanities people: when I entered the trade in 1992, being able to use and service a PC was enough to get me a strong competitive edge!

    2. Yeah, interdisciplinarity sells. But the trouble is that nobody else cares about prehistory. Anyway, there’s not enough time to forge any links of that kind before the deadline.

    3. Publication plan vague? I’m offering real-time updates in the form of journal notes and then a monograph. This is more than many humanities scholars would offer in a 3-year project at 80% of full time.

  10. #10 Janne
    March 20, 2008

    From my quick overview there’s a definite lack of robots in the proposal. Giant, killer robots, with lasers. They could, oh I don’t know, help with the digging perhaps. I know I would definitely not get funding unless I included robots in the proposal; I’m not an archeologist though so I’m a bit unsure on what importance the committee will place on the giant killer robot angle.

  11. #11 Bob O'H
    March 21, 2008

    I’m with Janne. Just make them bronze age giant killer robots.

  12. #12 Martin R
    March 21, 2008

    Great suggestion! Also, I was thinking maybe I should team up with a few molecular geneticists to create a giant sea turtle with laser eyes.

  13. #13 Martin R
    March 21, 2008

    But Bob, isn’t the Colossus of Rhodes thing kind of old by now?

  14. #14 Susan R. Matthews
    March 23, 2008

    Please accept my remarks not as critique, because I know nothing about academic language or grant proposals.

    As an accountant and cost policy writing person, I’d want to see something like: “The [thus and such] area is rich in archeological evidence of unique significance that has not been the subject of comprehensive review to date. My proposed study will not only contribute materially and directly to existing research but will provide a comprehensive framework for further exploration and documentation, and benefits not only the immediate archeological community but also the future of the art in Northern Europe.”

    Or, in other words:

    “You are uniquely important. This research will show how uniquely important you are, and is really sexy in a scientific way, too. The whole world will love this research and you for funding it.”

    For what it’s worth,

    “Too Many Words” Susan

  15. #15 Carl Lipo
    March 24, 2008

    One concern I would have about this proposal if I were reviewing it is whether or not you are going to get “results” regarding spatial distributions regardless of what you do. In other words, I would be shocked if you didn’t falsify the notion that the features you are looking for are randomly distributed about the environment. Why would they be? Falsifying the random distribution hypothesis only falsifies statements from probability theory, not archaeological theory. If not random, then what? Who knows? — especially since the observations have no necessary links to each other and have no necessary connection to the way in which you propose to describe the landscape.

    Ironically, the criticism of ad hoc descriptions is one that often gets forward for non-science arguments such as intelligent design. In these cases, the world is interpreted through a filter of “intelligence” that based on an a priori assertion. Scientists and philosophers alike have raised this point countless times. The ironic part is that when it comes to cultural phenomena, the same kind of assertive logic is used. Traditional (i.e., common sense) descriptions are used to assert intelligence through the recognition of “obvious” patterns. Of course, these patterns are a construction of description. In the case of science, the descriptions are theory formed. In the case of studies of cultural phenomena like archaeology, they come from simple common sense (i.e., “sacraficial site”). In your case, your intent is good but the nouns used throughout the proposal are just english words with no particular meaning except for the assumed one taken by the writer and reader (which are not necessarily the same).

    Thus, sad to say, your empirical study is effectively a version of an interpretive intelligence design argument where the creator is a simply reflection of ourselves (often the “rationale human”) or some abstract version there of (think about Paley’s watch – how do we know its not “natural”? because it’s made by an intelligent design — who? europeans). This is, of course, the post-modern critique. However, the solution isn’t to throw one’s hands up and say its all relative, but to construct explicit units with explicit relations that can be integrated into explicit explanations. We must make our biases and our meanings explicit rather than cryptic. This is the role of theory. Indeed, it is evolutionary theory that makes units of observation (species, genes, clades, etc) meaningful and capable of generating cumulative knowledge.

    There are folks who will argue that it doesn’t hurt to collect information without having meaningful observation units: but this is often not the case in archaeology where the phenomenon is destroyed during the process of observation (i.e., excavation) or when the resource is under threat of construction. My point is that we shouldn’t take such easy potshots at intelligent design advocates and then permit such sloppy thinking in our own discipline. Science is not just quantification but qualification THEN quantification. Numbers, GIS, maps, spatial patterns, and surveys don’t matter without units.

    Of course, your proposal largely follows the standard archaeological tradition of “let’s do a survey” and see what we find and perhaps that is what your funding agency expects. However, from the point of view of an advocate of science I expect more.

  16. #16 Martin R
    March 24, 2008

    Thank you for a most thoughtful and challenging comment! I think you’re barking up the wrong tree and inadvertently being rather rude.

    whether or not you are going to get “results” regarding spatial
    distributions regardless of what you do. In other words, I would be
    shocked if you didn’t falsify the notion that the features you are looking for are randomly distributed about the environment.

    Indeed, I assume they are not randomly distributed. My question in the first step, rather, is how exactly they are non-randomly distributed. I want to find out if they are so non-randomly distributed that I can build a predictive model from available data, and then use that model to locate new sites.

    when it comes to cultural phenomena, the same kind of assertive logic is used. Traditional (i.e., common sense) descriptions are used to assert intelligence through the recognition of “obvious” patterns

    No, there is no obvious pattern here that anyone has recognised. If I recognise such a pattern, then this is in itself an advance in archaeological knowledge. If the pattern holds so well that it makes useful predictions that are borne out by excavations, then it’s a big mutha of an advance.

    these patterns are a construction of description. In the case of science, the descriptions are theory formed. In the case of studies of cultural phenomena like archaeology, they come from simple common sense

    No, they come from comparative ethnography (currently known as social anthropology). Lo-tech societies vary within pretty tight constraints that have been generalised and tested.

    the nouns used throughout the proposal are just english words with no particular meaning except for the assumed one taken by the writer and reader (which are not necessarily the same).

    The proposal’s target audience is a group of senior archaeologists on the grant board, people trained in anthropological theory. They know, as I point out in the proposal, that e.g. “the category of the sacrificial site is not entirely self-evident, nor is its functional and social interpretation a simple matter”.

    your empirical study is effectively a version of an interpretive intelligence design argument where the creator is a simply
    reflection of ourselves

    Are you arguing that Bronze Age people weren’t intelligent?

    collect information without having meaningful observation units … standard archaeological tradition of “let’s do a survey” and see what we find

    That is an insult not just to my own humble intelligence, but to that of my entire discipline.

  17. #17 Carl Lipo
    March 24, 2008

    My intent was not to insult your work but try to challenge the logic behind it, in the spirit of science blogging. That should be the point of all this, yes? Sharing of information should include critique. Otherwise, its just preaching to the converted.

    A couple of points:

    Your claim that the patterns in the record can be translated into “knowledge” via ethnographic evidence is more of the same problem. If the present is the same as the past, why study it? Why would “lo tech” societies have constraints?

    Here you make two assumptions: (1) that “lo tech” are somehow simple and physics-like and (2) that your use of the word “test” means something scientific. Both assumptions are problematic. The first comes largely from studies of modern “lo tech” societies – which come from observations of populations that have been pushed to the margins environments by farmers. Even their “constraints” have been shown to be (1) historically contingent and (2) not particularly “simple.”

    Your second assumption about testing is also problematic. Testing in this case refers to our ability to take contemporary observations between empirical phenomena and apply them to the past. However, “testing” is just word used here that has no real meaning – since there is no way to falsify a claim. The past doesn’t “exist” (we study the contemporary archaeological record) but rather is an idea we have about the present. So testing in this sense (as you have argued, not as it has to be) consists of assertions you make about the way the past HAS to be. Herein, lies the problem and the parallel logic to arguments of intelligent design.

    This doesn’t mean that claims about the archaeological record can’t be made in a falsifiable fashion, it just means that you can’t structure your argument (as has been made clear by legions of philosophers of science) in a confirmationist way. One has to be able to be wrong.

    The challenge to archaeologists is a tough one. On the one hand we need to re-conceive the language and logic we use to build observations and make explantations to remove our common sense from the explanations. The replacement of common sense with theory is the process of science. On the other hand, we need to be able to communicate to reviewers that have only commonsensical notions about archaeology and expect to read about “past sacrifices” and the like. This is a tough one since the more we make archaeology a science, the less immediately accessible it becomes to folks without training.

    I don’t understand why you think that I would say that the Bronze Age people weren’t intelligent. Of course they were! The problem here is that we can’t just take OUR sense of what things “are” or what they are “for” and apply them to the past. If we hold Bronze Age people to be identical to us – then why bother studying the record? What we want to explain is why the record is structured as it is with reference to an understanding of that the past is different than it is today. That’s the point as I see it.

    Your statement that I insulted the entire discipline is hyperbole. Archaeology needs to be challenged – it costs money, restricts development – and currently produces no obvious product other than pleasing stories. We can do a lot better than that.

    What tests are there? I think you are misusing the word “test” here — to mean that we keep making the same interpretations can “lo tech” societies

  18. #18 Carl Lipo
    March 24, 2008

    On a more practical side:

    Your reply to Mats about publication plans seems a little defensive:
    “3. Publication plan vague? I’m offering real-time updates in the form of journal notes and then a monograph. This is more than many humanities scholars would offer in a 3-year project at 80% of full time.”

    This reaction is a bit surprising for someone who is so involved in blogging! Who cares what “many humanities scholars” offer? Why not specify open access journals and internet means for sharing your information? Why limit the data to just those institutions that can afford the subscriptions to some obscure archaeology journal? Why a monograph? Who will see it?

    There are a variety of initiatives regarding open access for the publishing of archaeological material and for sharing data. One particularly interesting one is: http://www.opencontext.org/

  19. #19 Martin R
    March 24, 2008

    If the present is the same as the past, why study it?

    The past is not the same as the present, though there are certain statistical generalities common to studied lo-tech societies.

    Even if a given prehistoric society did turn out (amazingly) to be largely identical to a current one, then we would need to study its remains to find this out. Most archaeologists, like historians, don’t aim at finding out generalities. Our goal is to use such generalities to find out about specific societies in the past. Knowledge about the Mesolithic in Portugal is useless in the study of Bronze Age Sweden.

    Why would “lo tech” societies have constraints?

    They simply do. The reason is probably largely a matter of human nature interacting with non-human nature.

    Testing in this case refers to our ability to take contemporary observations between empirical phenomena and apply them to the past.

    No, I want to apply those contemporary observations to the present. I aim to learn how to find more sacrificial deposits, and along the way to establish some generalities about Bronze Age sacrificial cult.

    One has to be able to be wrong.

    Such as through spending two fieldwork seasons digging in bogs without finding any Bronze Age sacrificial deposits?

    On the one hand we need to re-conceive the language and logic we use to build observations and make explantations to remove our common sense from the explanations.

    Certainly not. Archaeologists have re-conceived their language time and time again without producing better knowledge. The literature of archaeological theory is a huge jargon-filled cesspit for which I have little but contempt.

    Archaeology … currently produces no obvious product other than pleasing stories. We
    can do a lot better than that.

    I disagree. In my opinion, archaeology (and astronomy, and botany, and pre-industrial history, and comparative linguistics…) is something societies fund for pleasure, not for practical gain. We would do just fine without archaeology. But many of us would have less fun. The stories needn’t be pleasing, though. Science is about seeking the truth.

    Why not specify open access journals and internet means for sharing your information?

    That may be a good idea, though I have a feeling that my senior colleagues on the grant board are likely to be unimpressed.

    Why limit the data to just those institutions that can afford the subscriptions to some obscure archaeology journal?

    Ummm, you’re new here, right? I publish most everything I do both on paper and on-line. And I’m managing editor of my discipline’s main paper journal. Subscribing to this quarterly costs about $42 a year outside Sweden.

    Why a monograph? Who will see it?

    I expect the results of my work to be book-length. Anyone searching for the Bronze Age in Sweden’s on-line research-library meta-catalogue will see it. If you’re referring to how many members of the lay public are likely to see the book, I regret to say that the Swedish Research Council is not mainly interested in public outreach projects. I am nevertheless one of the most publically visible scholars in my field.

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