SHAPE of things to come – St Andrews academics awarded British Academy funding

Thursday 4 May 2023

Three University of St Andrews academics are among the recipients of almost £8 million in British Academy research funding.

The grants are awarded for projects that will promote public engagement with, and understanding of, Social Sciences, Humanities and the Arts for People and the Economy/Environment, known as the SHAPE disciplines.

The Academy has awarded more than £500,000 in Senior Research Fellowships and £6.5 million in new Mid-Career Fellowships to academics working in the SHAPE disciplines, along with more than £90,000 to support collaborative SHAPE research projects.

Professor in the School of Divinity at the University of St Andrews, Sabine Hyland (above centre), received one of 11 Senior Research Fellowships, worth almost £50,000. These awards, funded by the Leverhulme Trust and other non-government sources, provide one year of research leave for established scholars. Researchers funded in this cohort includes those focusing on legacies of colonialism, religion in the Valley of Pompeii, and the archaeology of the crusades.

Professor Hyland’s research, ‘Knotted Survivors: Endangered Khipu Traditions of the Peruvian Andes’, will document and help preserve endangered Andean khipu (knotted cord writing) traditions by conducting research, completing an academic monograph, and repatriating previously collected khipus.

Professor Hyland said: “It was thought that khipus died out soon after the Spanish conquest of the Incas in the 1500s, however, anthropologists discovered khipu use in remote villages and I encountered additional communities where khipus continue to play a vital role.

“This generous award will allow me to collaborate with village elders to gain new insights into how Andean peoples communicated through knotted and coloured cords, and to help preserve this ancient writing tradition.”

Another Professor in the University’s School of Divinity, George Corbett (above left), receives one of 43 Mid-Career Fellowships, designed to free researchers from teaching and administrative commitments and enable them to pursue a major piece of research that advances understanding in their subject area. The 2022/2023 Mid-Career Fellows are all researchers who have achieved distinction as excellent communicators and ‘champions’ in their fields.

Professor Corbett was awarded £126,477.60 for a project entitled ‘Theologian-Poet: Dante’s Beatrice, and the Beauty of the Christian Faith’. The research monograph retrieves the purely allegorical interpretation of Beatrice – the beatitude attainable through the Christian supernatural order – as well as the sophisticated theological readings of Dante’s three autobiographical works, the Vita nuova, the Convivio, and the Commedia, by principally Catholic and clerical scholars in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

“The stakes could not be higher,” says Professor Corbett of his research. “Arguably, modern readers tend to fixate on the surface of Dante’s poetry, while failing to appreciate the profound depths of Dante’s theology. My monograph seeks to re-present Dante as a theologian-poet who sings of the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Christian faith, represented, purely symbolically, by Beatrice.”

On receiving the award, Professor Corbett commented: “I am profoundly grateful to the British Academy for this opportunity. The fellowship enables me to research and document a fascinating strand of Dante’s reception history and to provide, thereby, a revisionary account of Dante’s works and their authorial intent.”

In addition to the Senior Research and Mid-Career Fellowships, more than £90,000 was awarded by the British Academy to four collaborative SHAPE research projects. The awards, which are for up to £25,000 in value, will enable the provision of infrastructural resources for other researchers and the wider public and are designed to support projects that have a clear focus on long-term sustainability and plan to move to financial self-stability.

Funded by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, successful research projects in this cohort include those looking at the intersections between criminal justice and border control, reproductive health in the UK and early medieval medicine in the Latin West.

With his project ‘Corpus of Early Medieval Latin Medicine (CEMLM)’, Professor James Palmer (above right), Medieval Historian in the University’s School of History, aims to challenge the opinion of early medieval medicine in the Latin West, which was seen as ‘deplorable’ and monastic. Since 2020, Professor Palmer’s project has identified approximately 250 manuscripts containing medical texts that open new perspectives on medicine between Antiquity and the high-medieval Salerno School and transform our understanding of the evolution of medical knowledge.

“Our aim is to widen access to this material and lay the groundwork for future research,” says Professor Palmer. “Along with my co-applicants, Dr Carine van Rhijn of Utrecht University and Dr Claire Burridge from the University of Sheffield, I am delighted to receive this grant, which will enable us to produce a new, comprehensive manuscript catalogue and online handlist; publish editions and translations of previously unedited recipe collections; and publish a ‘minigraph’ introductory volume for the field.”

Find out more about the Senior Research Fellowships, the Mid-Career Fellowships and the collaborative SHAPE research projects on the British Academy website.

Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.

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