Benjamin Smith

Professor, BA University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, PhD Cambridge University

  • The University of Western Australia (M257), 35 Stirling Highway,

    6009 Perth

    Australia

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Personal profile

Biography

I gained my doctoral degree at Cambridge University, UK, in 1995. I am now working as a teaching and research leader in the School of Social Sciences’ Archaeology flagship at the University of Western Australia. From 2013 to 2021 I worked as Associate Dean in the Faculty Offices, driving growth in HASS research funding, publication numbers and quality, as well as postgraduate student numbers and experience. I have built successful cross-disciplinary research teams and new research entities. I have run emerging research leader development programmes.  

I have led large national and international research projects and directed the world’s leading institution in the field of rock art studies. I have managed recruitment and retention of staff at all levels and been responsible for setting and meeting institutional research performance targets. A life-changing aspect of my work was in Nelson Mandela’s South Africa, where I was tasked with transforming diversity within South African Archaeology and preparing progressive national policy. South Africa gave me with a strong moral compass that still guides all aspects of my professional life and provides a solid, principled, grounding to my leadership style.

Roles and responsibilities

Professor of World Rock Art, School of Social Sciences, University of Western Australia

President, ICOMOS International Scientific Committee for Rock Art

Editorial Board Member, Antiquity + South African Journal of Science

Funding overview

31) Life after digitisation: future-proofing WA’s vulnerable cultural heritage (2022-2025) $1,069,066. CI. With Helena Grehan, Murdoch University. ARC Linkage LP210100149. A major State-wide project to digitise and socialise significant cultural heritage collections of WA.

30) Cosmo-Art: the cosmopolitan approach as a new paradigm for rock art heritage management in southern Africa (2021-2024) $960,000. Australian PI on a large multinational research project. Agence Nationale de la Recherche, France. Developing a cosmopolitan approach as a new paradigm for rock art heritage management in southern Africa.

29) Chinese Western Australians (2021-2022) $50,000. Lead CI, with Dr Yu Tao, UWA. China International Education Foundation. The contribution of Chinese Western Australians to the history of WA.

28) Beyond Success: the Swan River – Derbarl Yerrigan – Experience (2021) $10,000. Joint Lead CI with Dr Yu Tao, UWA. Study Perth. To provide a river experience to 50 international students that will transform their perception of Perth and drive social media content to attract future international students to this city.

27) Digitisation Centre of Western Australia, Phase 1 (2020-2022) $1,525,000 ($1,100,000 ARC + $425,000 partner cash contributions). ARC LIEF Grant LE200100123. Lead CI. Bringing together all 5 WA Universities, the State Library and WA Museum to create shared archival quality digitisation infrastructure.

26) Murujuga Rock Art Conservation Project (2019-2022) $337,476. Lead CI. Crowd-Sourced Funding. An assessment of the effects of industrial pollution on Murujuga rock art with recommendations for mitigation.

25) Archaeo-Tourism in South Africa (2019-2022) $250,000. PI. National Research Foundation, South Africa. With Catherine Namono, University of the Witwatersrand. A community-centred project to develop South African rock art tourism.

24) National Heritage Survey (2016) $11,000. Lead CI. National Trusts of Australia. Feasibility report and draft national heritage survey

23) Christmas Island Values Project (2016) $21,000. Lead CI. Shire of Christmas Island. Research into the distinctiveness of Christmas Island society and values.

22) South Africa – China International Rock Art Collaboration (2012-2014) $15,000. Lead CI. South African Government. Bilateral collaboration in the field of rock art studies including exchanges and joint seminars.

21) Rock Art Dating Project – Phase 1 (2012-2014) $300,000. Lead CI. National Research Foundation, South Africa. A national project to produce the first extensive direct dates for South African rock art.

20) Makgabeng Project (2012-2014) $460,000. Lead CI. National Research Foundation, South Africa. A community rock art research and tourism development project.

19) The 4 Sites Rock Art Conservation Project (2011-2013) $30,000. Lead CI. US Government. Technical intervention into the physical conservation of rock art at four sites.

18) Rock Art Dating Project – Pilot Phase (2011) $30,000. Lead CI. National Research Foundation, South Africa. Start-up funding to prepare a major funding request in an area of national interest

17) 4 Countries Rock Art Collaboration (2011-2013) $400,000. Lead CI. South African Government. Staff and student exchanges, training, public site developments and joint research projects between South Africa, Mexico, Mozambique and Botswana

16) Makgabeng Community Tourism Project (2010-2011) $150,000. Lead CI. South African Government. A tourism feasibility project and development plan for community-based rock art tourism.

15) African Rock Art World Heritage Project (2009-2011) $90,000. Lead CI. UNESCO funded. Research by five graduate students into aspects of rock art and World Heritage management and conservation.

14) Andrew W Mellon Foundation Digitisation Project Phase 2 (2008-2012) $900,000. Lead CI. Private Foundation funded 20 additional individuals and institutions join the collaboration to digitise rock art collections and place them online. Project expanded to include all of Africa.

13) Indigenous Knowledge Systems Research Grant (2007-2011) $165,000. Lead CI. National Research Foundation, South Africa. A collaboration by six researchers to interpret the meanings of South African rock art using indigenous knowledge systems

12) South Africa – France International Rock Art Collaboration (2007-2010) $495,000. Lead CI. South African Government. Involved staff and student exchanges and joint research projects

11) Sequencing the Rock Art of South Africa (2005-2006) $190,000. Lead CI. National Research Foundation, South Africa. A collaboration by six researchers to produce relative chronologies for South African rock art with a view to preparing for the absolute dating of these sequences.

10) Andrew W Mellon Foundation Digitisation Project Phase 1 (2004-2007). $900,000. Lead CI. Private Foundation funded. Established a 10 institution collaboration to digitise South African rock art collections and place them online. More than 100,000 images digitised.

9) Mozambiquan Rock Art Project (2003-2005) $17,000. Lead CI. Norwegian Government. A collaboration with Bergen University, Norway and Eduardo Mondlane University, Mozambique, to survey for and record rock art in remote parts of Mozambique.

8) South African Museum of Rock Art Project (2003-2006) $7,500,000. Lead CI. South African Government funded. Constructed a National Museum of South African Rock Art

7) Landscape and Environmental Change in Semi-Arid Regions of East and Southern Africa (2002-2004) $30,000. Lead CI. British Institute in East Africa. A multi-institutional archaeological research project in Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe

6) South African – Norwegian Collaboration (2002-2004) $285,000. Lead CI. South African Government. Staff and student exchanges + joint research projects. 

5) Ringing Rock Digitisation Project (2001-2003) $935,000. Lead CI. Private Foundation funded. Digitised more than 100,000 rock art images held by the Rock Art Research Institute and placed them in an online archive (www.sarada.co.za)

4) Rock Art Rapid Response Team (2000-2005) $540,000. Lead CI. Industry funded. A world first – a two person team made available for free to assist in rock art conservation and management emergencies anywhere in southern Africa

3) Hermeneutic Approaches to Understanding South African Rock Art (2000-2004). $270,000. Lead CI. National Research Foundation, South Africa. A collaboration by six researchers to interpret the meanings of hunter-gatherer, herder and farmer rock arts in southern Africa.

2) National Rock Art Tourism Project (2000-2004) $1,490,000. Lead CI. South African Government. Involved the development of two public rock art sites and a national centre for the coordination of rock art training and publicity.

1) Patricia Vinnicombe Project (2000-2004) $40,000. Lead CI. Private Foundation funded. Completed more than 700 unfinished rock art site recordings by Patricia Vinnicombe and prepared them for archiving and publication

New and Noteworthy

I am now managing the largest Digital Humanities research infrastructure project in Australia: a world-leading project to construct the Digitisation Centre of Western Australia. I initiated, raised the funding for and have project managed the development of this Centre. It is a collaboration with the four other Western Australian universities and two state institutions (the State Library and State Museum). The Centre is now constructed and is already attracting significant ongoing research funding (eg. ARC Linkage LP210100149).

Previous positions

January – December 2021. Associate Dean – Research, Office of Research, University of Western Australia.  Key responsibilities: assist in all aspects of university research governance and administration as requested by the DVC research.

January 2017 – 2020. Associate Dean – Research, Faculty of Arts, Business, Law and Education, University of Western Australia. Key responsibilities: monitoring research performance and developing strategies for research growth and expansion; increasing research income and supporting grant applications; growing postgraduate student numbers and improving student experience; allocation of scholarships, raising of scholarships and management of scholarship; mentorship of Early Career Researchers; strategic research hiring; advisory role on research and postgraduate student policy and administration.

July 2015 – December 2016. Associate Dean – International, Faculty of Arts, University of Western Australia. Key responsibilities: develop international research links with leading international institutions and industry partners; facilitate research staff to gain productive international links; increase income through growing the international student load; develop articulation agreements with universities in targeted countries.

July 2013 – December 2015. Associate Dean – Research Training, Faculty of Arts, University of Western Australia. Managing all aspects of Postgraduate Coursework and Research recruitment, candidature and experience. Scholarships and Awards management. Postgraduate Coursework development and promotion. Industry placements. Supervision quality. Examination integrity and quality control.

January 2005 – Dec 2013. Research editor, South African Archaeological Bulletin. Research editor for leading international archaeological journal.

January 2000 – Jan 2013. Director, Rock Art Research Institute, University of the Witwatersrand. Managing and expanding the world’s leading specialist institution in the field of rock art studies. Staff line management, recruitment, fund raising, budgeting, financial reporting, project management, PhD recruitment; driving transformation of gender equity and cultural diversity.

February 2009 – Jan 2013. Associate Professor, Archaeology Division of the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies, University of the Witwatersrand.

May 2003 – February 2009. Senior Lecturer, Archaeology Division of the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies, University of the Witwatersrand.

July 1999 – April 2003. Lecturer, Department of Archaeology, University of the Witwatersrand.

July 1997 – June 1999. Post-doctoral Fellow, Department of Archaeology, University of the Witwatersrand.

March 1997 – June 1997. Research Officer, Rock Art Research Institute, University of the Witwatersrand.

Dec 1995 – February 1997. Research Officer, McDonald Institute, University of Cambridge.

Current projects

I am currently CI or PI on six research projects:

6) Life after digitisation: future-proofing WA’s vulnerable cultural heritage (2022-2025) $1,069,066. CI. With Helena Grehan, Murdoch University. ARC Linkage LP210100149. A major State-wide project to digitise and socialise significant cultural heritage collections of WA.

5) Cosmo-Art: the cosmopolitan approach as a new paradigm for rock art heritage management in southern Africa (2021-2024) $960,000. Australian PI on a large multinational research project. Agence Nationale de la Recherche, France. Developing a cosmopolitan approach as a new paradigm for rock art heritage management in southern Africa.

4) Chinese Western Australians (2021-2022) $50,000. Lead CI, with Dr Yu Tao, UWA. China International Education Foundation. The contribution of Chinese Western Australians to the history of WA.

3) Digitisation Centre of Western Australia, Phase 1 (2020-2022) $1,525,000 ($1,100,000 ARC + $425,000 partner cash contributions). ARC LIEF Grant LE200100123. Lead CI. Bringing together all 5 WA Universities, the State Library and WA Museum to create shared archival quality digitisation infrastructure.

2) Murujuga Rock Art Conservation Project (2019-2022) $337,476. Lead CI. Crowd-Sourced Funding. An assessment of the effects of industrial pollution on Murujuga rock art with recommendations for mitigation.

1) Archaeo-Tourism in South Africa (2019-2022) $250,000. PI. National Research Foundation, South Africa. With Catherine Namono, University of the Witwatersrand. A community-centred project to develop South African rock art tourism.

Teaching overview

As a passionate and committed educator, I maintained my teaching in Archaeology even whilst serving as Associate Dean in the Faculty. In different years, I have coordinated and taught both of our Archaeology first year units, two out of four of our second year units and both of our core third year units. I enjoy the breadth of our Archaeology teaching at UWA, and seek to provide the full range of vocational learning experiences that our students will need in their future careers. From 2022 I have been the course coordinator of the Archaeology Major.

At Cycle 2 level, I led the development and teaching of our Heritage Studies Coursework Master program (currently paused). The evidence of the impact of this world-leading degree is abundant in the employment records of our graduates. Almost all recent heritage positions in Perth have been filled by our graduates (e.g. Armadale City Council; Cockburn City Council; Element WA; Heritage Council; Rio Tinto; Rottnest Island Management Authority; City of Perth; Terra Rosa Consulting; WA Museum).

Research

I am currently either CI or PI on six research and research infrastructure grants worth a total value of $4,091,542. My fields of research span Australian Archaeology, African Archaeology, World Rock Art, Heritage Studies, Cultural Tourism, Ethics and matters of method and theory. I have published high impact journal articles in all of these fields. I serve on the editorial board of the world’s leading archaeological journal: Antiquity (Cambridge University Press) and Africa’s leading Scientific journal: The South African Journal of Science (Independent). In terms of postgraduate supervision, I have supervised to completion 13 PhDs, 6 MPhils, and the thesis component of 24 coursework and research masters. Nine of these completions were with distinction and one received an international thesis prize. I am currently looking to take on additional top ranking international doctoral students in any of my fields of research.

Engagement

  • UWA representative on the Australian Council of Deans of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities 2014-present
  • Member of the Associate Dean Network (HASS) for the Western Australian Universities 2016-present
  • ERA 2018 Research Evaluation Committee for Humanities and Creative Arts
  • President: ICOMOS International Scientific Committee for Rock Art 2014-present
  • Treasurer, Australian Archaeological Association 2013-2016
  • Adviser and evaluator for UNESCO on the listing process of World Heritage Sites
  • Research editor of the South African Archaeological Bulletin 2005-2013
  • President of the PanAfrican Archaeological Association for Prehistory and Related Studies 2010-2014;
  • Draftsperson of the South African Policy for Archaeology and Palaeontology for the Department of Science and Technology, 2010.
  • Council Member, Pan African Archaeological Association, 2005-2010
  • Draftsperson for the Transformation Charter for the Association of Southern African Professional Archaeologists, 2008
  • Treasurer, Association of Southern African Professional Archaeologists 1999-2001, 2004-2008
  • Director of the project that created the internationally acclaimed Origins Centre in Johannesburg 2001-2006
  • Project manager of the Kamberg public rock art site development project opened in 2002
  • Project manager of the Wildebeestkuil public rock art site development project opened in 2001

Industry keywords

  • Tourism

Research expertise keywords

  • Archaeology
  • Rock Art
  • Africa
  • Heritage
  • Heritage studies
  • African archaeology
  • World rock art studies
  • Archaeological theory and method
  • Rock art dating
  • Digital archiving in archaeology
  • Archaeology of identity
  • Contextual approaches to rock art meaning and motivation
  • Rock art in modern societies
  • Archaeology and identity
  • Archaeology of art and rock art
  • Archaeology of music and ritual
  • Cognitive archaeology
  • Archaeology of culture contact
  • Asian archaeology
  • Ethnography and archaeology
  • Hunter-gatherer archaeology
  • Postcolonial archaeology
  • Public education and archaeology
  • Cultural heritage
  • Cultural heritage management
  • Cultural heritage management and significance assessment
  • Rock art method and theory
  • Rock art identification and recording
  • Historical rock art
  • African rock art
  • Archaeological method and theory
  • Archaeological theory and historiography
  • Archaeotourism
  • Cultural heritage tourism
  • Australian archaeology

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