Beatriz Marín-Aguilera talks about textiles, colonial bodies, and ECR prospects on the job market

  1. If you were to describe Cambridge in one word, what would you choose?

International. As you walk down the street you hear and see people from everywhere in the world, with different nationalities, backgrounds, religions, and ideas. I love it. The postdoc community at the McDonald Institute is a great example of this, and the colleges too. Funnily enough, I remember joining St. John’s College in September 2016 without knowing very well how colleges work. Most postdocs were always busy with colleges’ dinners, meetings, etc. and I thought colleges were like an exclusive club within the university, and either you were part of them or you were left completely outside of the academic life (and the ‘Harry Potter’s experience’). As a Cambridge outsider, the organisation of the university in individual colleges, as well as in different subject divisions/faculties is initially difficult to grasp. Joining St. John’s however has been one of the best experiences of my life so far, I have met wonderful colleagues from different disciplines… And also my partner!

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Source St John’s College Facebook.
  1. You are currently working as a postdoc in an ERC (European Research Council) project. Can you tell us about your own research in this project?

The PROCON project is an interdisciplinary endeavour that examines the role that textile production and consumption played in the urbanisation of Mediterranean Europe (1000-500 BC). We focus on the production of textiles from fibre to fabric, carrying out fibre identification, isotope analysis of sheep bones, examination of textile tools and contexts of production, iconography and written sources. In order to gather this information, our team has embarked on an ambitious programme for the past five years to record data initially from Greece, Italy and Spain. When we realised the exciting results of those three regions, we became more greedy and studied other Mediterranean areas as well such as Croatia, Macedonia and Bulgaria – the latter two are not strictly Mediterranean, but they are nevertheless well connected with Greece and Macedonia.

My role in this project has been recording and analysing textile production and consumption in Spain and Sardinia. It has been a great challenge because Spain is as diverse today as it was in ancient times, and Iron Age communities in Extremadura were quite different from the ones living in nowadays Catalonia. Diversity was also striking within the same region, eastern Andalusia for instance was immersed in different Mediterranean dynamics than the western zone, a crossroads between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic area.

Since I compared the mobility of people, crafts and ideas in the ancient Mediterranean for my PhD, my work in the project currently focuses on the mobility of spinners and weavers in the Mediterranean, the transmission and transformation of knowledge and craft practices, and the impact of Phoenician and Greek colonisation on the local textile’s cultures.

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  1. I know that you have also been very interested in postcolonial theory in archaeology, as reflected in the recent conference panels that you’ve organised. Do you think this is a topic that should receive more interest? What would you say is the relevance of such a topic in the current social context, but also for archaeology more broadly?

I think theory in general should receive more interest in archaeology. Lately I have the feeling that we are heading towards a post-positivist turn in our discipline in which our methods overshadow our goals. Material sciences have greatly advanced our understanding of past societies and we should definitely explore new scientific methods to help us answer our historical questions.

However, I think the word ‘history’ is crucial here. We study human beings and their unfolding relations with materiality, and therefore we need to historicise our research questions. I give you an example to better illustrate my point. I can chemically analyse as many textile dyes as I like or as many metals as I want, but my goal should not be (and it is not) the chemical analysis itself. What does the chemical analysis tell us about the production process? Why people in that particular society were using those dyes or metals and not others? What does that analysis tell us about cultural contacts, social inequality, power relations? How those dyed textiles and metals relate to other materials in the site/house/tomb/etc? And most importantly, will that analysis reply to my research question(s)?

Most recently I have been asking myself what is the impact of archaeology on today’s society and how archaeology articulates discourses that affect people’s lives. We should certainly reflect more on what we do and on why we do it, and I think theory is decisive to do so, as well as to acknowledge the geopolitics of knowledge.

  1. Reaching the end of your employment in the project, how do you see your future prospects on the job market?

The job market in academia is a lottery. We are just so many people and very few available positions. On top of that, combining a successful career in academia with a personal (family) life is incredibly difficult, especially if your partner is also an academic. I have been extremely lucky throughout my career with fellowships and job applications. I got everything I applied for… Until now. In the past year I have unsuccessfully applied for four different postdoc positions, but I nevertheless try to keep positive. It is the only way.

Last August I started to develop a project about colonial Chile, partially founded by the McDonald Institute, and I would like to continue exploring that venue of research. I am particularly interested in the study of colonial bodies from a comparative approach. How bodies were controlled and punished by colonial and/or imperial power (race, social status, gender, sexuality), but also how people subvert and even mock the colonial discipline by adorning and dressing their bodies in particular ways.

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Source Wikipedia.
  1. How is a typical day in the life of Beatriz?

Busy! Especially this year, trying to combine the analysis and publication of the project’s results with job applications. Despite that, I truly enjoy a good literary novel. I have recently rediscover German literature with Hermann Hesse and Stefan Zweig, and I am also working on my precarious German.

 

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Follow Beatriz Marín-Aguilera here  and here, and news on the PROCON Project here.

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