Thursday, December 14, 2006

Land of Four Thousand Archaeologists

My good friend and mentor Jan Peder Lamm has a thing for bibliographies. Specifically, he’s been the driving force behind a series of volumes listing photocopied BA and MA theses written by Swedish students of archaeology and adjoining disciplines. Many of these works contain very respectable research, with useful databases and thoughtful analyses. Thanks to Jan Peder’s efforts (and those of his disciples, including myself), they are far more accessible than they would have been if they had just been lying around the department store rooms.

It struck me the other day that these bibliographies allow one to estimate how many archaeologists Sweden has produced since the 1940s, assuming a BA or MA in the subject as a prerequisite for the moniker. I’m interested in this because of my strong opinions on the high unemployment rate in the profession. This is to my mind a result of a university system that strives to maximize student throughput and teacher employment rates without any view to whether the kids learn anything that might help them have a subsequent career.

There are sources of error: some theses may have been missed, and some people are listed both for their BA and their MA theses. But we should be able to see the order of magnitude. Let’s just look at theses in Scandinavian archaeology, which are the ones written by people who hope to work as archaeologists in Sweden.

For the period 1950-2003, the bibliographies list 4371 theses. They document decades of slow growth, and then a dramatic peak in the 1990s, when on average 87 theses where written each year only about the Iron Age. There is then an encouraging slump for 2000-2003, with an annual average of 63 Iron Age theses. Nevertheless, there must be thousands of people with archaeology BAs or MAs in the country, most of whom are not yet past retirement age. And believe me, there are not thousands of archaeology jobs: there may be two or three hundred. So it seems that in recent years, Sweden has had an overproduction of archaeologists on a rough scale of 10:1. Though the application numbers to recent jobs are more like 90:1.

I say, let's put a few tens of archaeology teachers on the dole, thereby stopping the university system from providing hundreds of unexperienced kids each year with a career path leading to unemployment.

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Anonymous Håkan S said...

Ett femårigt intagningsstopp på arkeoloiutbildningen vore en bra åtgärd. Då skulle vi kunna få lite rätsida på arbetsmarknaden. Det skulle innebära att arbetsgivarna blev tvungna att värna om sin säsongs- och projektanställda personal. Lönerna och arbetsvillkoren skulle få en nödvändig justering uppåt.

14 December, 2006 12:42  
Blogger Martin said...

Such a stop-gap measure would be good. But to solve the problem more permanently and not just for archaeology, I think there should be a feedback mechanism from the unemployment rates to what courses may be offered in higher education. As I keep saying...

14 December, 2006 13:33  
Blogger Henrik said...

...on the other hand, Martin: You could argue that open and free access to whichever education one chooses to pursue is the first step to free (liberal) research in the humanities, yes?

18 December, 2006 20:36  
Blogger Martin said...

There's no such thing as free research in the humanities or any other subject that generates no revenue. It is only possible to perform such research as pleases the government. This is why we are all currently liberals. And why the Amt Rosenberg got such good funding in the 30s and 40s.

Also, it is currently only possible (in Sweden) to choose an education that is at least somewhat popular. If I am the only teen who wants to study Japanese archaeology, then this will not make such a course available.

The problem is that not only subjects that lead to careers become somewhat popular. This is largely because 19-year-olds are largely clueless aboout what will be important to them after graduation.

18 December, 2006 21:06  

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