Letting 1000 Flowers Bloom


Tomorrow I’m heading down to Manchester for a Wellcome Trust funding workshop, which should help my chances the next time I go down on bended knee and request thousands of pounds for my next research project.  The Trust has played an indispensable role in my career in medical history; without them I’d probably still be a careers advisor in Edmonton, wondering about what might have been.  I’m profoundly grateful to them and am extremely fortunate that they believe in the work I do, yet, in a way, I wish medical historians didn’t have to rely on them.  And I wish non-medical historians didn’t have to rely on other funders, either.  I wish we didn’t have to apply for funding at all.

Okay, I feel this, in part, because I am just beginning to tackle a funding application and it’s intimidating.  It’s going to be a lot of work, a lot of soul searching and, despite the fact that I’ve been had some successful applications, I’ve had many more unsuccessful ones and don’t like the feeling of failure I get when the ‘We regret to inform” letter comes through the letter box.

But the other reason I feel this way is that I would prefer to live in a world where historians were simply able to do what they wanted to do.  Rather than chasing after funding like greyhounds after a rabbit, I wish there was a more egalitarian way of doling out money, so that everyone was able to do research.  Perhaps this wouldn’t lead to as many superstar academics.  Perhaps I am an old socialist at heart, wanting to give everyone the same outcomes as well as opportunities.  But perhaps a funding-free world would lead to more cooperation, more collegiality and a bit more breathing space in the corridors of an ivory tower near you.