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Historians beg for grant extensions to help Covid-19 plight

Image: Ralf Steinberger [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Germany's early career talent feel pressure from lack of access to archives and project delays

The Association of Historians of Germany (VHD) has called for more attention to be paid to the difficulties faced by entry-level history researchers due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The association appealed to research funders such as the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Germany’s largest public research funder, to issue six-month extensions to all limited contracts and grants. If this does not happen, many early career researchers in the field could lose their work, the VHD said.

Delays in research process

The pandemic poses massive problems for the entire scientific community, and especially for PhD students and post-docs in archive-based historical research, the VHD said. This is due to the combination of general pandemic hardship shared among different disciplines and specific difficulties for historians, whose work relies on accessing physical documents, sometimes in other countries.

“Care obligations, closed archives and libraries, or even the impossibility of embarking on planned research trips, massively delay scholarly work without, in many cases, extending the duration of funding,” the association warned. “The closure of, or severely restricted access to, the reading rooms of archives makes planning almost impossible.”

The significant wait for a workstation and the lack of digitalised materials cause delays in the research process, the VHD said. This is compounded by a general closure of university libraries, which restricts access to the literature and workspaces that can be vital for history research projects, the association said.  

Increased workload

Other burdens specific to doctoral students include the fact that many are also employed as assistants to professors and must honour teaching responsibilities with little access to, or training in, digital tools. The VHD slammed the “ad-hoc” digitalisation efforts of universities, saying this had led to an increased workload for post-docs and associate professors.

Additionally, many doctoral candidates have experienced income losses due to the fact that opportunities for part-time jobs and freelance activities in the field have been lost or suspended. In some cases, this makes it impossible for PhD students to complete their research projects, the VHD said.