Dr Martin Worthington wins €2.5m ERC Advanced Grant

Posted on: 02 July 2024

Dr Martin Worthington of Trinity’s School of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies has won a prestigious European Research Council (ERC) Advance Grant.  

He will use the €2.5 million grant to fund a five-year project entitled MesOr (Mesopotamian Orality and the Anthropology of Writing) which will investigate an important chapter in the story of writing — the use and non-use of writing in ancient Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). 

Dr Worthington, Associate Professor, School of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies, explained:  

“Today we take it for granted that pretty much anything we say we might write down, and vice-versa. People break up by text message. Skype can transcribe conversations. Most things a teacher tells you will also be in a book. Examples are legion. But, it was not always so. 

“The MesOr project will study the uses and non-uses in ancient Mesopotamia, where many things went unwritten. For example there are hardly any written recipes, and no diaries. The project will map out what was written and what was not written and explain this distribution by drawing on comparative evidence. 

“Overall the aim is to generate a model of how the oral and written worlds interacted in Mesopotamia, helping to understand a long and important chapter in the story of the amazing technology that is writing.” 

Advanced Grants are the most competitive of the ERC awards. They are designed to provide leading senior researchers with the opportunity to pursue ambitious, curiosity-driven projects that could lead to major scientific breakthroughs.  

Dr Worthington added:

“I am very honoured by this grant, which is a huge support for the discipline of Ancient Near Eastern Studies. We will be able to employ talented young people, and hopefully develop a new way of thinking about Mesopotamian sources. 

“I am extremely grateful for the support of academic colleagues and the funding specialists in the Research Development Office for their enduring support through the lengthy proposal preparation process; and to Enterprise Ireland for their financial support for the development of the project.” 

Commenting on Dr Worthington’s success, Dr Linda Doyle, Provost of Trinity, said: 

“It is fantastic to see a prestigious body like the ERC appreciate the research value of the Arts and Humanities and I am delighted to congratulate Martin on this outstanding achievement. 

“An ERC Advanced Grant is an international benchmark of excellence, marking awardees out as a leader in their research field.  

“Martin’s research is ambitious and will provide a new way of studying the uses of writing, in one of the world’s first cultures to use it.” 

Professor Sinead Ryan, Trinity’s Dean of Research, added: 

“We are very proud of Martin on securing this well-deserved award. MesOr is an exciting interdisciplinary project that combines the fields of philology, anthropology, and socio-cultural history, and which uses the traditional 'close reading' approach alongside computer-driven analysis to cover a vast range of texts.   

“This winning combination of experience, expertise and innovation is characteristic of Arts & Humanities research at Trinity.” 


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