fieldwork

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Over the Easter break more than 100 students and staff from the Geography & Environmental Science department set off to explore Berlin, Naples or Crete for their annual field classes. Topics discussed ranged from the social production of history, contested urban space and the ‘transition’ movement in Berlin; exploring the volcanic activity near Mount Vesuvius; and the interaction between humans and the environment, tourism and biogeography in Crete.

Our staff and students documented their adventures on social media, so check out the Storify posts below for a real taste of what they got up to!

Berlin

Crete

Naples

Naples

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The School of Archaeology, Geography & Environmental Science has been successful in receiving the Silver Athena SWAN award, given by the Equality Challenge Unit.

Athena SWAN was established in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to tackling gender inequality in higher education. It has traditionally covered science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) disciplines, but has been expanded to include arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law departments (AHSSBL) as well.

The winning submission from the Gender & Fieldwork photo competition, by George Hibberd

The winning submission from the Gender & Fieldwork photo competition, by George Hibberd

 

SAGES received the Bronze Athena SWAN Award in 2011 and has continued to be committed to creating an inclusive environment for all. Our School-specific objectives for Athena SWAN are:

1. To aspire to a culture of equality for our staff (academic, admin, research and technical) and students;

2. To enhance induction, communication and consultation processes within and between Archaeology, GES and SAGES;

3. To improve collegiality and achieve a more cohesive structure in SAGES;

4. To foster a supportive culture of mentoring, review (PDRs), training and promotion across SAGES (regardless of career stage).

Dr Nick Branch, current Head of School, says “The last three years has been a period of rapid and positive change for the School. Since our Bronze Award, we have extensively refurbished the School infrastructure, changed the School name and mission, and prioritised equality, diversity and wellbeing. Athena SWAN has been the key platform for transforming the culture and improving working lives within the School.”

Ellie Highwood, Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, said the silver award to SAGES reflected the impact of innovative actions, such as a year-long School-wide “Gender in Fieldwork” project, on everyone in the School.

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Giuseppe Feola spent three weeks in February and March 2016 doing fieldwork in south-east Kazakhstan. He was accompanied by postdoctoral researcher Tristam Barrett and worked in close cooperation with colleagues at the Institute of Geography in Almaty. The team also benefitted from the support of the Local Community Fund, an NGO which runs an agribusiness centre in Shelek, near one of the research sites. The research team set out to collet data for the project “Climate change, water resources and food security in Kazakhstan“.

 

Moment of group discussion during the multi-stakeholder workshop in Koram

Moment of group discussion during the multi-stakeholder workshop in Koram

The first phase of the field work involved organising and conducting two multi-stakeholder workshops in the villages of Koram and Karaoi. Both villages have experienced serious water management issues in recent years, and the workshops allowed the research team and the participants to identify the major challenges faced by the water management system in the each location. The workshops enabled productive discussions across the boundaries that traditionally separate farmers, local authorities, NGOs and local scientists, and therefore helped unravel the complex relations between the challenges faced by different actors in dealing with water use in agriculture. For example, the workshops clearly showed that, while climate change affects water availability in this region, infrastructural inadequacies and financial and organisational issues play an important role in limiting the adaptive capacity of the farming system to climate change.

 

Map of the challenges faced by different actors in the local farming system in Karaoi

Map of the challenges faced by different actors in the local farming system in Karaoi

The second phase of the field work involved field visits and semi-structured interviews with 21 participants . With the aid of a mental mapping technique, the interviews allowed us to grasp the interviewee’s understanding of the water management system, in its infrastructural, environmental, and institutional dimensions. Moreover, the interviews also focussed on ongoing adaptation strategies. These include, for example, spontaneous rescheduling of water supply rotations among farmers and farmer self-organisation to clean some of the main irrigation canals and fill the gap let by the inability of the responsible state organisation to maintain the irrigation infrastructure.

 

Example of a mental map of the water system in Koram

Example of a mental map of the water system in Koram

This research will improve understanding of agricultural adaptation to climate change in south-east Kazakhstan, but it also sheds light on the still ongoing post-Soviet transformation of agriculture in this country.

 

You can read more about Giuseppe at his staff profile and personal webpage.

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Frank getting excited over Amazon mud

Frank getting excited over Amazon mud

Frank Mayle spent much of his summer 2015 doing fieldwork in tropical South America.  Late June to late July was spent in the Bolivian Amazon, accompanied by his two PhD students (Richard Smith and Heather Plumpton), postdoctoral researcher (John Carson) and Bolivian botanist Daniel Soto.  This involved collecting sediment cores from lakes and bogs and digging soil pits.  These samples are then shipped back to Reading where they are analysed for their microfossils – pollen, charcoal and phytoliths – using light microscopy, to understand the impact of climate change and indigenous human land use upon Amazonian forests over the past several millennia.

After a few weeks back home, Frank was then off to Brazil for a month (mid August to mid September), where he is a visiting scientist at the University of Sao Paulo – funded by Brazil’s CNPq Science Without Borders programme.  After 2 days on the road, the UK-Brazil research team reached the field area of northern Espirito Santo and southern Bahia – in the core of the Atlantic rainforest, or what’s left of it.  As with Bolivia, the fieldwork involved using coring equipment to collect sediment cores from bogs in order to analyse the DSC00146preserved fossil pollen to reconstruct the long-term history of rainforest dynamics in response to environmental change, in this case dating back to the last ice age.

This research will improve understanding of the response of South America’s tropical rainforest ecosystems to drier climate conditions of the distant past, and thereby provide important insights into the likely response of these globally important ecosystems to future increased drought predicted by most climate models.

 

You can read more about Frank at his staff profile.

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