Skip to main contentCambridge University Reporter

No 6402

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Vol cxlvi No 7

pp. 101–114

Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

A Discussion was held in the Senate-House. Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor John Spencer was presiding, with the Registrary’s Deputy, the Junior Proctor, the Junior Pro-Proctor, and ten other persons present.

The following Reports were discussed:

Report of the Council, dated 13 October 2015, on works to improve access to the ground floor of the Old Schools (Reporter, 6399, 2015–16, p. 40).

No remarks were made on this report.

Report of the General Board, dated 7 October 2015, on the introduction of an Archaeology Tripos (Reporter, 6399, 2015–16, p. 43).

Professor C. Broodbank (Disney Professor of Archaeology, Head of the Division of Archaeology, and Gonville and Caius College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I first thank the General Board and several committees of the University through which this proposal has passed for their positive and constructive reception. This proposal also enjoys full support in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology.

This Report outlines in its paragraphs 3–8 the rationale, structure, and recruiting strategy for what we are convinced will be a highly successful, game-changing Tripos in Archaeology, explicitly engaging an international as well as Home/EU student market, and involving a strong, evolving relationship with our cognate disciplines within Human, Social, and Political Science. This will both restore the recently – and unintentionally – diminished primacy of undergraduate archaeology at Cambridge (sustained over much of the last century, and now lost to Oxford and, as I can testify from recent experience, UCL), and lead in exciting future directions. These twin goals are intrinsically good for the University and accorded a high priority by alumni and other key stakeholders. Our proposed Tripos works with the opportunities of a dynamic intellectual landscape, while respecting the ecology of current degree structures and teaching at Cambridge. It offers a strategic re-set and vision for archaeology’s future at a University deeply entwined in the field’s genesis, development, and flourishing to date.

Archaeology should be a key field for the education of the future global citizens and leaders that Cambridge aims to produce. As a form of comparative, deep history, it stands as the interpretative gateway to many of the fundamental human processes shaping our past and informing our present – our emergence and propensities as a species; why we farm and so now live in billions; how we began to connect and communicate over long ranges (the genesis of current globalization); why we live in cities; why societies are often so unequal; what drives long-term civilizational dynamics; how we have survived our planet’s climatic rollercoaster over millennia; in short, how the strategic balances and imbalances of our planet first developed. Much – arguably the majority – of our past must be studied through archaeology, or it remains a dangerous void.

Archaeology in the early 21st century is not simply a social science, but embraces a spectrum of approaches ranging from the sciences to the humanities. It is a superb medium for training the flexible, innovative minds that our society needs in order to navigate a thriving future; minds that can evaluate, integrate, and draw inferences from both quantitative and qualitative data, from genomes to art. Archaeology therefore needs to be a thriving and visible component of Cambridge’s educational panoply, to the benefit of the subject and the University.

I therefore hope that the University will accept the General Board’s Report.

Professor P. M. Allmendinger (Head of the School of the Humanities and Social Sciences, and Clare College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, as Head of the School of the Humanities and Social Sciences I am pleased to commend to the University these proposals for a new Tripos in Archaeology.

The School and its participating institutions have been delighted by the success of the Human, Social, and Political Sciences (HSPS) Tripos since its launch in 2013, but concerned to note an apparent dilution of interest in Archaeology as a core subject within the HSPS Tripos framework. We have followed this carefully over the past two years and it is now clear, from admissions data and from student feedback, that the HSPS structure deters excellent students wishing to specialize in archaeology and human evolution.

A new Tripos affording specialist admission in Archaeology will enable the Department to attract the highest quality future archaeologists who we know currently do not apply to Cambridge; and to retain its role as a niche provider in ancient and near-eastern languages, human evolution, and biological anthropology.

The structure of the new course has been carefully designed to maintain Archaeology’s place within the HSPS Tripos, so that students may still encounter archaeology through the mixed offering provided through HSPS, and may draw on this as an interdisciplinary choice throughout their studies; or may of course choose to transfer into Archaeology in order to specialize alongside those who were admitted directly to this new Tripos.

Careful planning by the Department has also ensured that our existing students, and those seeking admission in 2016, will be supported. Currently available options within the HSPS Tripos will remain fully available within the existing regulations, and will be delivered alongside the launch of the new Tripos.

This initiative is very much aligned with the School’s on-going efforts to attract the highest-quality applicants in the humanities and social sciences, and to offer them a first-class undergraduate education that meets their interests and challenges them to achieve highly. These proposals are therefore welcomed by the Council of the School, and are fully supported by the Faculty Boards concerned and by the Management Committee of the HSPS Tripos.

Professor J. E. Robb (Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, and Fitzwilliam College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor and members of the Regent House, I speak as a member of the Division of Archaeology involved in helping design this new Tripos proposal.

Other colleagues will speak to specific aspects of the proposal. The most important general point to make which I believe is not covered in other statements is that this proposal is the fruit of a long consultative process with all the various stakeholders involved with undergraduate admissions and teaching. Representatives of several of these will speak today, but the full list includes all Divisions of the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, the Faculty Board of Human, Social, and Political Science, the HSPS Tripos Management Committee, the School of the Humanities and Social Sciences, the Education and Student Policy Section, the General Board’s Education Committee and the General Board itself, the Cambridge Admissions Office, the University Admissions Committee, the College Admissions Forum, and the College Senior Tutors’ Committee, as well as informal discussion with a very wide range of colleagues.

We have listened carefully to issues raised by all of these and responded thoroughly to them, and the final proposal reflects all of their often quite central input. And it thus enjoys the solid support of all of these. This gives us confidence both that there is an overwhelmingly strong case for a new Archaeology Tripos, and that the proposed Tripos is fit for purpose when seen from Departmental, University, student, and College perspectives alike.

Dr N. Bampos (Chair of the HSPS Tripos Management Committee, Department of Chemistry, and Trinity Hall):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak to this Report as the Chair of the Human, Social, and Political Sciences Tripos Management Committee, the body constituted in 2012 to implement the necessary recruitment arrangements and facilitate the process from which the new Tripos has emerged as an exciting and popular course within the School of the Humanities and Social Sciences.

The University cares about undergraduate education, and in so doing nurturing and training a generation of scholars who will go on to make a significant contribution in their chosen fields (be it in academia or elsewhere). It has been, and should continue to be, our intention to maximize the options available to the brightest and intellectually ambitious students, and when they arrive to offer a first-class education.

It is within this context that the HSPS Tripos was formulated to expose students with a broad range of interests to a stimulating interdisciplinary degree supported by a number of Departments across the Humanities and Social Sciences. While the course has been popular with applicants and the recent cohorts of students admitted to the Tripos, what has become clear over the past two years is that within the HSPS Tripos the profile of archaeology has suffered and the number of applicants with an interest in the discipline has dropped. Such an outcome undermines the original aspiration to maintain the profile of the constituent subject within the new Tripos. We are clearly losing capable students from diverse backgrounds to other institutions perceived by applicants to be catering to those interested in archaeology in a way that we are not.

Our colleagues in Archaeology have chosen to seize this opportunity to rethink the delivery of the course and build on a proud Cambridge tradition to, as we have heard already, ‘re-set’ the new Archaeology Tripos as one of significant relevance to the modern world. There is no attempt in this Report to undermine the current HSPS Tripos, but, if anything, to enhance the options for students with an intention to specialize in Archaeology to be able to do so alongside the opportunities available in HSPS.

We have heard from members of the Department and the Head of School, all of whom have expressed their enthusiasm and support for the proposals outlined in the Report. It is noteworthy that the Report also has the support of the Faculty Board and the various Departments, and throughout this process I have been impressed by the time, thought, and commitment that has been invested in the details outlined in this Report. The HSPS Tripos Management Committee will for its part support this endeavour and do all we can to ensure that the students get the educational experience they expect and deserve.

Dr C. A. Petrie (Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, and Trinity College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the Human, Social, and Political Sciences Tripos has been a notable success, seeing a significant increase in applications, but it has had a dramatic and deleterious impact upon archaeology in Cambridge.

Taking my own College as an example, around 50% of students in the former Archaeology and Anthropology Tripos would typically take Part II Archaeology. The College now admits more students into the HSPS Tripos but very few of these opt to take Part II Archaeology. This pattern has been repeated across the University.

Importantly, across the University, the quality of the students taking Archaeology has been maintained, but the quantity of such students has dwindled. This demonstrates that Archaeology at Cambridge currently attracts top students, but few of them reach us via HSPS.

The single honours Tripos in Archaeology will revitalize the teaching of this subject in Cambridge in general, and at a substantial number of Colleges. It will be supported by an active campaign of outreach and recruitment to attract non-traditional Cambridge students and to explore international openings in the US and elsewhere.

I’m pleased to note that the Senior Tutors’ Committee has endorsed our proposal. Currently there are Directors of Studies in Archaeology in approximately 19 Colleges, and we are well placed to provide external Directors of Studies elsewhere. The current Directors of Studies from Archaeology already contribute to interviewing in HSPS, and we are all eager for the opportunity to source, interview, admit, and teach the best students of archaeology, and once again make Cambridge the best place to study archaeology in the UK, and arguably the world.

Professor D. J. Feldman (Chair of the Faculty Board of Human Social, and Political Science, and Downing College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I speak to the Report in the capacity of Chair of the Faculty Board of Human, Social, and Political Science. The Faculty Board is grateful to all who have been involved in the development of the new plans. The Board has considered the plans at different stages in their development and is extremely happy with the plan which is currently contained in the Report. I can confirm that the Faculty Board supports the proposal fully and is looking forward to playing its part in overseeing the new Tripos when it begins.