21 December 2021

Umberto Albarella awarded a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship

It is with great joy that we announce that Umberto Albarella has been awarded a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship, which will give Umberto three years of research leave to dedicate to his new project: ‘A History of Britain in 50 Animals’.

Umberto Albarella

Written from the archaeologist’s viewpoint, Umberto Albarella’s monograph provides an alternative history of how British society has been shaped by the interaction between humans and animals.

Our understanding of the past is filtered by the approach taken by those who investigate it. Historians will generally explore the political, social and economic developments of human societies, whilst natural scientists look at how environment and climate have shaped the way we live. Human communities are embedded within their natural world and there is a need to understand their histories by overcoming these traditional disciplinary divisions. Archaeology has the potential to do this. My research on the history of Britain, from Palaeolithic to contemporary times, will focus on archaeology to provide an understanding of how animals have contributed to the evolution of our ways of life. This archaeological data will be combined with evidence from natural history, social history, literature and iconography. Although the focus will be on the past, reference to contemporary debates will be made, to explore how our history has influenced current attitudes and what we can learn from it.

Our existence on this planet is fundamentally determined by the way we have interacted and still interact with the animal world. Nonetheless, most accounts of the history of the world, as a whole or, more often, as individual regions or periods, only mention animals in passing, focused as they are on key social and political events that, at times, may seem to be entirely devoid of any relationship with the natural world. My book aims to redress this imbalance. It will depart radically from the traditional structure of a history book by providing an alternative history, in which rulers, army generals, weddings, battles and other specifically documented historical events will play a negligible role. The focus will instead be on large-scale events, such as environmental, landscape and settlement changes, as well as long trends in dietary choice, hunting, farming, trade, social organisation, rituals and beliefs, acculturation and cultural resistance and many others.

The precarious nature of our relationship with the planet means that we must urgently reassess the embeddedness of our societies in their respective ecosystems. Using Britain as a case study, my project will contribute to this quest by illustrating the many and wonderful ways in which our constantly evolving relationship with animals has shaped our history.

REF 2021 illustration

Research Excellence Framework 2021 results

The results demonstrate our research and impact excellence across a broad range of disciplines and confirm that our research is having a significant positive impact on lives across the globe.