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Ten years of UK participation in HERA Joint Research Programmes

Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA) is a network of national funding agencies committed to leading and developing funding opportunities for humanities researchers in Europe. Since its inception it has grown from 14 to 26 national agencies.

HERA’s first thematic Joint Research Programme (JRP) was launched in 2009 (Cultural Dynamics: Inheritance and Identity, and Humanities as a Source of Creativity and Innovation). This has been followed by two subsequent JRPs in 2012 (Cultural Encounters) and 2015 (Uses of the Past), with a fourth starting in 2019 (Public Spaces: Culture and Integration in Europe). The HERA partners, together with the European Commission, have pooled €76 million (£64m) to fund 75 transnational humanities-focused projects, many of which include UK researchers. These have supported 231 scholars, 206 postdoctoral researchers and 88 PhD students who have worked together with 173 associated partners (total for JRP 1-3), including business and industry, policy makers, museums, galleries, libraries and archives, arts organisations and performing arts practitioners.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has been a key partner in all the HERA calls, and UK researchers have been extremely successful in leading projects and accessing funds. UK-based researchers represent the single largest cohort of investigators within HERA. Of the 75 Collaborative Research Projects funded to date, 39 (52%) are led by a UK researcher and 46 (61%) include a UK research team.

“We are proud to be an active member of HERA. International collaboration is a key component of AHRC’s strategy and HERA is both a highly collegial body and a brilliant channel through which to promote and support European arts and humanities research through research funding, collaboration and advocacy. The success of UK researchers in the Joint Research Programmes is a testament to our world-class researchers and the importance of innovative and collaborative humanities-focused research across borders,” says Professor Edward Harcourt, Director of Research, Strategy and Innovation for AHRC.

At a conference in Gdansk, Poland in September 2019, the HERA network launched its fourth joint research programme ‘Public Spaces: Culture and Integration in Europe’ (2019-2022). Along with the European Commission, €20 million (£17m) has been invested in 20 European research teams.

One project funded is the “en/counter/points: (re)negotiating belonging through culture and contact in public space and place”, which will be led by Dr Susannah Eckersley from Newcastle University.

The project aims to understand why people feel 'at home' or 'alienated' no matter whether they are refugees, migrant communities who have moved to new places, or  people who have stayed put but feel that everything has changed around them. The project brings together researchers from Newcastle University with academic partners from Warsaw University Institute of Sociology; Potsdam Centre for Contemporary History; University of Amsterdam; and Politecnico di Milano. It will also involve 12 associate partners from across Europe such as museums, heritage organisations, religious and migrant community groups, and cultural organisations.

“This HERA funding has enabled our project - en/counter/points - to develop interdisciplinary and international research which investigates how peoples’ encounters with difference in cultural spaces and public places may shape identities and connect to past, present and future belonging. Analysing how and why people draw on the past in times of uncertainty, of difficulty, and of polarisation in order to establish a sense of social or cultural 'order' - whether harmonious or conflicting - is crucial to understanding the world we live in today,” says Dr Susannah Eckersley, Newcastle University.

HERA proactively stimulates impact and has appointed two HERA Knowledge Exchange and Impact Fellows. The Fellows are charged with supporting funded projects and developing a scheme-wide culture of impact, creating a sustainable infrastructure for impact through events and toolkits (including working with Early Career Researchers), and advocating for the humanities on national and international levels. The two HERA Knowledge Exchange and Impact Fellows are: Professor Joanna Sofaer (Archaeology, University of Southampton) and Professor Tony Whyton (Jazz Studies, Birmingham City University), both of whom are former HERA project leaders from JRP1.

Professor Joanna Sofaer and Professor Tony Whyton, HERA Knowledge Exchange and Impact Fellows, say: “The multiple European partners involved in HERA have differing national approaches but as a network HERA is committed to maximising public engagement, knowledge exchange and the impact of research activity across Europe. The voices of humanities scholars are needed now more than ever, and we are strongly committed to the idea that humanities matter. They have cultural, social and economic benefits, including benefits to well-being and the environment but they also offer the possibility for a deeper, more fundamental shaping of the world: a shaping of thought, ideas and human actions. This is where the power of the humanities lies and we are excited be involved in developing the roles of the humanities outside the academy to make a difference".

More information about the HERA network and funded research projects.

HERA is managed centrally, for general HERA queries please contact the Irish Research Council, for UK specific queries please email AHRC HERA.

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