European Research Council backs research into anti-slavery in Africa and sign languages

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The European Research Council, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premiere European funding organisation for excellent frontier research

Two researchers from the College of Arts and Law at the University of Birmingham have been awarded ERC Advanced Grants as part of €450 million (£400 million) funding for Europe’s long-term frontier research.

Dr Benedetta Rossi, a Reader in African History and Anthropology in the Department of African Studies and Anthropology, secured a grant to explore ‘African Abolitionism: The Rise and Transformations of Anti-Slavery in Africa’.

Benedetta Rossi said: "I am grateful to the ERC for this great opportunity to expand our understanding of African and global abolitionism by developing new research with a team of researchers in Africa, Europe, and the UK. The AFRAB Project is the first large-scale comparative research project on African abolitionists. It will trace the historical developments of anti-slavery ideas and actions across African societies, networks and actors. Its results will contribute not only to African historiography, but also to the study of abolitionism as a global phenomenon."

Dr Adam Schembri is a Reader in Linguistics in the Department of English Language and Linguistics. His research concerns ‘The Dynamics of Sign Language Grammar: Morphology, Language Change, Iconicity and Social Structure in Signing Communities’.

Adam Schembri said: “This new project aims to better understand similarities and differences in the grammar of sign languages around the world, and how they are shaped by language-internal and language-external factors. I’m extremely excited about the opportunity that this funding will provide: how it will enable us to build a team of deaf and hearing researchers working on sign language linguistics research here at the University of Birmingham, and what the project will teach us about the emergence and evolution of sign languages in particular, and human language in general.”

The College of Arts and Law academics are among 185 winners of the annual ERC Advanced Grants competition. This funding is part of the EU research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020. The new grantees will carry out their projects at universities and research centres across 20 EU Member States and associated countries with Germany (35), UK (34) and France (21) hosting most grants.

The President of the European Research Council, Professor Mauro Ferrari, commented: “I am glad to announce a new round of ERC grants that will back cutting-edge, exploratory research, set to help Europe and the world to be better equipped for what the future may hold. That’s the role of blue sky research.”

Set up by the European Union in 2007, the European Research Council is the premiere European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. Every year, it selects and funds the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based in Europe.

The ERC offers four core grant schemes: Starting, Consolidator, Advanced and Synergy Grants. With its additional Proof of Concept grant scheme, the ERC helps grantees to bridge the gap between their pioneering research and early phases of its commercialisation.

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About the ERC

The European Research Council, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premiere European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. Every year, it selects and funds the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based in Europe. It offers four core grant schemes: Starting, Consolidator, Advanced and Synergy Grants. With its additional Proof of Concept grant scheme, the ERC helps grantees to bridge the gap between grantees' pioneering research and early phases of its commercialisation.