Research Trip 101: Permits (Hidden Curriculum #9)

For those of you who are new here, the hidden curriculum includes a set of things we’re expected to know how to do, from attending a conference for the first time to applying for funding to going on the job market, without actually being taught them. This month’s installment is all about research trips since I’m on my own trip right now!

Embarking on your very first research trip can feel overwhelming. It’s a long, tedious process with a lot of moving parts – no wonder I’ve gotten so many questions about it! In this post, I’m going to help you get started on that process.

In particular, I’ll show you exactly how to start applying for study permits and contacting the museums you want to visit.

A note on permits

What is a study permit, exactly?

A study permit is a document that grants individuals access to material in museums or storerooms. According to The Acropolis Museum’s guidelines: “the work carried out involves systematic and detailed scientific and technical work and research” on specific objects. It aims to draw specific conclusions or making interventions on those objects.

Study permits are important because they keep a record of who has had access to certain material and what they plan to do with it in the future.

I’ve never been denied a study permit, but it’s well within the rights of a museum to refuse access for any number of reasons.

Another important note: there may be different types of permits for different sorts of analyses. For example, the ASCSA distinguishes between permits to study and/or publish material and permits for the (scientific) analysis of archaeological material.

The difference? Permits for the analysis of archaeological material frequently involve sampling that material, whereas the former permits tend to focus on photographing, measuring, and drawing.

Make sure you’re applying for the right permit for your project!

How do I apply for a permit?

In truth, I have only ever needed and obtained one study permit in my academic career.

(Note: I have also studied material from the Athenian Agora excavations in the past (and continue to do so today). Because the material is from an ASCSA excavation, however, it is not necessary to have a permit to study it so long as I am a member of the School.)

The permit I needed, then, was for my visit to the Archaeological Museum of Polygyros in late March of this year. While the study permit was issued from the relevant Ephoreia of Antiquities, my application was submitted through the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

It’s also possible to submit your application directly to the Greek government; the ASCSA is a useful mediator, however, if your modern Greek isn’t great.

If you want to study material from museums in other countries, I’d recommend asking around to find out whether you need a permit to do so and how to go about obtaining one, if so. Some people to ask: your advisor, a colleague who’s worked in that country before, or a representative from an in-country academic institution.

When applying for study permits through the ASCSA in Greece, the process is pretty simple and straightforward.

1. Research proposal

Your first step involves writing a brief, 2-3 page research proposal.

Your proposal will briefly introduce your audience to your project and demonstrate why studying this set of material is necessary. This should include a list of relevant, but select bibliography. It should also include information about the nature of your dataset, your proposed schedule and itinerary, and the research methods you plan to use.

Be sure that the methods you are planning to use align with the type of permit you are applying for (see above).

2. List of materials to be studied

Next, you’ll need to compile a comprehensive list of the material to be studied. At minimum, this list should include inventory numbers, publication information (such as plate numbers), and object type.

When creating this list, consider how much time you’ll have. Then think about how much you’ll be able to realistically get through in that timeframe.

Are your objects big, or small?

Do they have lots of details, such as elaborate decoration or lots of text?

How many analytical methods are you using for each object?

In general, smaller objects tend to go faster for me than big ones. This is even if I’m recording many different things for each object. I find that the more I do, the more streamlined the process becomes.

The only way to really know how much you can do is with practice!

3. Publication information

In addition to including relevant plate numbers in your list of material to be studied, you should also be prepared to include more detailed publication information for your material, if necessary. If the material you want to study is unpublished or comes from a project that was carried out by another foreign school, you should include written permission to study that material.

OK, I have my research permit. What now?

Congrats! That wasn’t so bad, now was it?

The next step in this whole process is contacting the museum(s) you want to visit. First and foremost, you need to find out how to contact that museum. Should you email them directly or is it possible to have a third party mediate?

The latter option is nice if your control of the target language isn’t great.

If you choose to email the museum directly, however, I would recommend doing so in the language of the country that museum is in. It was incredibly daunting but I was pretty proud of myself when I did so – even if the museum never responded to my message.

Which leads me to the next point: timing.

If you’re like me and like to plan way, way in advance, keep in mind that not everyone does this. If you don’t get a response (like I did), don’t panic. Plan your trip as though it might happen anyway, and email closer to the time you’re planning to be there.

I had much better luck both when I emailed less than a month out from my trip and when I got the receptionists at the ASCSA involved.

When reaching out to the museum you want to visit, there are a few things to include in your initial communication.

First, your permit(s) to study the material.

Second, your proposed dates (especially if these have not been set yet or if the museum is not open to the general public).

Finally, you should include a list of the material to be studied.

Beyond the first few emails, you should also have some questions prepared for the museum if it’s your first time visiting. You should ask what the opening hours of the museum are. Also ask what the visitor hours are (if different from general opening hours).

If the museum is not open to the public, you should inquire about how you will gain access everyday when you come to work. This might involve the relevant authorities contacting the museum guards for you. I never had any issues, but the person I spoke with provided me with phone numbers to call if I had a problem.

The last thing to consider is whether the museum will require you to show any documentation when you arrive. Such documents might include your permits, vaccination certificate, and any identifying information.

You should have these things on hand anyway, just in case! But it’s helpful to ask ahead of time to anticipate if and when you’ll need to show these things on site.

Final thoughts

At least in Greece, without a study permit, your chances of gaining access to archaeological material is almost zero.

Now you have everything you need to get started on the process of planning and preparing for your research trip – including applying for a permit – all in one place.

Before you start working on your next permit application, make sure to leave a quick comment to let me know where you work, whether you’ve needed a permit to study material, and how you did it! I’d love to learn more about how this process works for other countries.

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