British academy

Research Professorships

Results of the 2003 competition

The Academy is pleased to announce that the following have been awarded British Academy Research Professorships:


Professor Robin Dennell, Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield

Professor Dennell intends to write the first overview of the Palaeolithic of Asian. He writes, ‘It is often said that Africa was the "cradle of mankind". If that was the case - and in my view, it is not as clear-cut as often stated - then Asia was the place where humankind grew up. Asia is the largest continent, stretching from the Pacific to the Mediterranean, from the Arctic to the Indian Ocean; it contains the world's extremes of altitude, and has some of the driest, wettest, hottest, and coldest places on earth. We also know that changes in its relief, topography and climate have also been more profound than those in Africa and Europe over the past two million years. Asia is also the "dark continent" so far as our understanding of its palaeolithic record is concerned. Africa attracts most attention because it allegedly was where our earliest ancestors, and later, modern humans first evolved. Europe is very well studied, not least because it has the highest density of palaeolithic archaeologists in the world. In contrast, the Asian palaeolithic has usually been treated as a minor part of wider-ranging, global syntheses, but "stand alone" regional syntheses, or in articles on either the first appearance of hominids outside Africa, or the first appearance of modern humans. What is needed is a 'grand synthesis' of its record that we know is at least two million years long, from when hominids first appeared in southern Asia to when they colonised northern Siberia late in the last ice age. Although there are many major gaps in our knowledge of much of Asia, for more is known now than even ten years ago. A synthesis of this evidence would help document and clarify a substantial part of the story of our own evolution, and allow the Asian Palaeolithic to be seen it its own right alongside that of Africa and Europe. It will be a major but exciting intellectual challenge to synthesise a large amount of disparate data within a coherent framework.’

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Professor Robin I M Dunbar, FBA, School of Biological Sciences, University of Liverpool

Almost every aspect of human social and business life is predicated on cooperation and trust. Such systems are, however, especially sensitive to freeriders who exploit others’ trust in order to take the benefits of cooperation without paying all the costs. In doing so, they threaten the stability and coherence of society and their influence can be felt at every level from personal relationships to international trade. Professor Dunbar will be exploring some of the mechanisms we use to minimise our exposure to freeriders. To do this, he will explore the extent to which personal knowledge, trust and social interaction, as well as more formal cognitive constraints, limit the size and structure of real social networks. He will also be using computer modelling and small group experiments to elucidate some of the more intimate features of these networks and the way they are used to structure and maintain the coherence of our social lives.

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Professor Avi Shlaim, Professor of International Relations, Alistair Buchan Reader and Professorial Fellow, St Antony’s College, University of Oxford

Professor Shlaim intends to research the Great Powers and the Middle East in the twentieth century, examining the international politics of the Middle East since World War I, with an emphasis on the role of the local powers rather than that of the external powers. It will draw on primary sources in English, French, Arabic, and Hebrew. Among the issues to be investigated are the revolt against Western dominance, the rise and fall of Pan-Arabism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Cold War and its impact, the development of political Islam, and the ‘war against terror’.