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FP7 signals new era for humanities research

Humanities have been represented in the EU research framework programme for several years now, and yet when FP7 was unveiled, many believed the humanities were making their first appearance. CORDIS News caught up with those responsible for the humanities at the European Commi...

Humanities have been represented in the EU research framework programme for several years now, and yet when FP7 was unveiled, many believed the humanities were making their first appearance. CORDIS News caught up with those responsible for the humanities at the European Commission's Research Directorate-General to find out how this misconception came about, and to hear why this field of research is important for EU social and economic cohesion. 'Humanities have been part of the EU research programme since FP5, but only marginally,' said Pascal Dissard from the 'Science, economy and society' directorate of DG Research. But in latter part of FP6, the field gained ground, with a number of large projects on areas such as linguistics and cultural diversity winning approval for funding. When FP7 was launched, many saw it as the first time that the humanities were given their rightful place in the European Research Area (ERA). A total of €623 million is earmarked under the new programme for the 'Social and economic sciences and humanities' thematic priority. 'FP7 is the first framework [programme] where the word 'humanities' appears in the title of a thematic priority,' Johannes Klumpers, head of the unit on 'Scientific culture and gender issues, told CORDIS News. 'This signals the increasing importance of the humanities.' For both men, it is no surprise that the field is gaining recognition given the potential that disciplines such as law, anthropology or history have in solving some of Europe's social and economic problems. 'There is a general understanding that the different disciplines that are classified under 'humanities' can contribute a lot to those 'hot issues' that we are dealing with in recent years,' said Mr Klumpers. These range from security challenges to issues related to multiculturalism and European identity. These 'hot' issues are taken up in the thematic area's first call, which was published on 22 December 2006. What is striking about the call is the cross-cutting nature of the topics covered. From migration and multiculturalism, to Europe's role in economic governance, it is clear that many, if not all the projects, will require some level of multidisciplinarity. Where humanities scholars fit into this collaborative approach has been a concern for the European Commission. To help the Commission to better integrate the humanities in the European Research Area (ERA), and to facilitate their participation in FP7, an expert group with 12 representatives from the humanities was set up in February 2006. 'One of the issues addressed was how to facilitate multidisciplinary collaboration involving humanities scholars,' explained Mr Dissard. The group is currently finalising a report, which will be presented in March in Berlin. In the report are recommendations for the Commission on steps to ensure that researchers from humanities disciplines are not left out in the cold. 'We would like to see a greater participation of the humanities in all our [research] activities,' said Mr Dissard. 'We don't want them [humanities researchers] to stick to one particular area of research; we would like them to participate in more sociological issues.' 'There are a number of subjects in the [work] programme that lean more heavily towards the social sciences, but then you also have other subjects like multiculturalism where you are likely to find more the humanities and less social sciences,' explained Mr Klumpers. Any collaborative research approach is possible, he believes. In the case of a project on multiculturalism, 'it might well be that there are humanities researchers who are collaborating with economists to make an economic analysis,' he surmises. Although not directly targeted, both men foresee some involvement from industry, and particularly form the creative industries, cultural heritage management or information and communication technologies (ICT). 'There are parts of the work programme that are of clear industry interest,' said Mr Klumpers, pointing to the topic 'intangible investments and innovation' covered in the first call. 'While mainly an academic exercise, the outcome will be very important to industry.' However, he went onto stress that, unlike other thematic areas, the evaluation of project proposals will not be judged by the participation of industry. One of the biggest challenges for the Commission over the last 18 months has been spreading the word among the humanities community about the possibility of funding under FP7. 'We have conducted a lot of outreach activities and have tried hard to communicate with the scientific community on the work programme,' said Mr Dissard. This has been helped along by national contact points (NCPs) and the ERA-net HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area), a network of 15 humanities research councils. Both networks are relaying back information to researchers in their respective countries. Another effective communication tool has been the Commission's social sciences and humanities newsletter. With over 5,000 subscriptions, not to mention the large online readership, the newsletter offers news on the results and publications of FP6 projects, as well as upcoming events. 'It's important because this newsletter spans over the different research framework programmes, so it creates a continuum,' explained Mr Dissard. 'It provides a very tangible view of what is funded.' Thanks to this initial outreach work, the response to FP7 from humanities researchers has been above expectations. At the recent launch of the programme in Bonn, Germany, crowds of researchers flocked to the workshop on social and economic sciences and humanities. With more researchers than there was room for, Mr Klumpers, who was making the presentation, had to hold the workshop twice. 'There was enormous interest which was totally underestimated,' said Mr Klumpers. 'This was because of al the outreach work that was done to spread the word.' Also taking great interest in the thematic area are the other Commission Directorate Generals. At the time of the consultation process on the thematic area's priorities, representatives from DG Employment, Health, and Education and Culture were actively involved in discussions - something which Mr Klumpers had never before seen in his career at the Commission. 'This [work] programme is definitely one with high policy relevancy which is demonstrated by the interest of our own policymakers,' he concluded.