Devolution, diets and decolonisation – Summer Research Studentships
16 December 2019
Our Summer Research Studentships offer Hertford undergraduates the opportunity to explore research topics outside of the University curriculum, working alongside expert tutors and researchers to complete an academic project with the security of financial support.
Studentship projects in 2019 covered a wide range of topics – in this article we’ll be exploring those from the humanities and social sciences.
UK devolution and Canadian jurisprudence
Third-year Lawyer, Joseph Lavery, took to task the Supreme Court’s position that foreign jurisprudence should not be used to aid the way in which we interpret legislative devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Joseph advocates the use of Canadian jurisprudence as an interpretative aid, noting the extensive literature on the division of federal and provincial power in Canada and its shared history with the UK. We could most likely learn lessons from a federal state more established than our own, he suggests.
“It is one thing to say that we should make comparisons, but it is another thing to say how,” writes Joseph, arguing that “Canadian authority should not be regarded as binding, but should be used only as a ‘reflective tool’,” an approach which allows UK courts to take advantage of Canadian jurisprudence whilst retaining their own flexibility.
After graduating, Joseph intends to pursue an LLM in the United States and study federal structures as a means of reconciling differences within countries. For Joseph, the Studentship has “provided a secure foundation on which I can build my expertise.”
Discovering Etruscan diets with bioarchaeology
Working at the Institute of Archaeology with Dr Lisa Lodwick (herself an alumna of Hertford), third-year Archaeology and Anthropology student Phillipa Kent investigated the diet, agriculture and centralisation processes at the Etruscan site of Poggio Colla. This ancient and innovative Italian culture (900-400 BCE) has been widely researched, but Phillipa found a neglected field in the area of archeobotany.
Roman writers such as Pliny noted that Etruria, an area roughly equating to modern Tuscany, was a particularly fertile area, well-disposed to supporting the growth of Mediterranean staples such as vines, olives and wheat. Phillipa worked on samples from the fortified hilltop settlement of Poggio Colla, an Etruscan site excavated only relatively recently. Not occupied since the 3rd century BCE, Poggio Colla offers a unique opportunity to study Etruscan culture and its changes over time.
Phillipa analysed charred archaeobotanical plant remains under a microscope, identifying different cultivated and wild species through their seed structures and categorising them as ‘early’ or ‘late’. Her results suggested a change in the dominance of particular crops, with a decrease in wheat and a corresponding increase in barley and beans over time, while samples became ‘cleaner’ with fewer examples of weeds and chaff. Most interesting, says Phillipa, is what this tells us about Etruscan economic strategy: “the early contexts seem to indicate a household-level economy with each family unit providing for themselves, while the later contexts indicate large storage contexts, which are strongly suggestive of a centralised economy.”
As one of the most in-depth archaeobotanical analyses undertaken to date on Etruscan material, Phillipa’s research points to the increasing levels of urbanisation and social stratification in Etruscan society and increased our understanding of the timings of this centralisation.
Decolonising the Ashmolean’s founding collection
The idea for Fenella Sentence’s project came from the recently revamped display of objects from the founding ‘Ark’ collection at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum. The third-year English student worked alongside Professor Emma Smith to investigate a postcolonial understanding of the early modern period and the implications that this has for contemporary museum interpretation.
The ‘Ashmolean Story’ exhibition reconstructs John Tradescant’s original ‘cabinet of curiosities’ as it would have appeared in the 1680s. Fenella conducted research into Tradescant’s wife, Hester, a key player in the story of the collection and its transferal to Elias Ashmole, but one who is often omitted from the historical record. “It’s become clear throughout the project that the overarching theme of the collection is an often deliberate misrepresentation of theft as consensual exchange,” says Fenella.
Rather than the provenance of the artefacts on display, Fenella focussed on the role of such ‘cabinets of curiosities’ in constructing colonial apparatus and iconography. Investigating the inventories of the collection, in which Native American objects are often described as “strange”, she discovered a discourse of non-neutral naming conventions which have subsequently been diminished in order to treat the collection in an apolitical way.
The outcome of Fenella’s Studentship has been to propose a new set of captions and interpretative text for the Ashmolean exhibition. “I wanted the captions to reflect themes of self-fashioning, theft, colonial aggression, and recent pushes to decolonise academic approaches and methodologies,” explains Fenella, who is also planning to pitch her research to Uncomfortable Oxford, an organisation offering a postcolonial lens on the University’s history.