Thursday, 16 April 2015
Tuesday, 14 April 2015
|Photo: Dr Claudia Glatz|
|Photo: Dr Claudia Glatz|
Sunday, 28 April 2013
As I mentioned in January, BISI is a project partner in an AHRC-funded research project that I'm currently working on with Ruth Horry, Jon Taylor, and Steve Tinney. It's got the possibly over-long title, "Materialities of Assyrian Knowledge Production: Object Biographies of Inscribed Artefacts from Nimrud for Museums and Mobiles" and its basic aim is this:
How do archaeological artefacts find their way into gallery cases and museum websites? How do objects found in the ground get transformed into specimens for scientific and historical study? How have the processes of making archaeological knowledge changed over the past two centuries? This project tackles those questions using objects excavated from the ancient city of Nimrud (Kalhu), capital of the Assyrian empire in the early first millennium BC.
The project aims to bring together as many as possible existing online resources on Nimrud, as well as creating substantial new interpretative content, designed and licensed for re-use by museums in mobile gallery guides. We're also hosting several related events throughout 2013.
The first of these was held yesterday at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. "Nimrud, from Mound to Museum: Making Knowledge from Archaeological Objects" brought together a range of academic experts who have been involved in this process, to give their personal stories of making knowledge from objects excavated from the city from the 1850s onwards. I have just finished putting together my live-tweets from the event on Storify to make a short summary of the five talks.
We made some great contacts for future Nimrud-related work, and collected a plethora of brilliant raw material for the Nimrud-related resources we're going to be developing on the project website over the coming months.
Thanks to everyone involved in the day: our six uniformly excellent speakers—Joan Oates, Julian Reade, Denise Ling, Kathleen Swales, Paul Collins, and Lamia Al-Gailani—and the engaged and thoughtful audience; Paul Collins (again) for organising the Ashmolean end, Lauren Mulvee for BISI, and fellow-project members Jon, Ruth and Steve.
The next Nimrud-related event we have planned is a free gallery talk I'll be giving on Wednesday 19 June 2013, 1.15-2.00 pm, at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge: "The Genies on the Stairs: who are they and how did they get here?" Not telling you now, you'll have to come along and find out!
Thursday, 11 April 2013
I'm back home in Cambridgeshire now, filling the washing machine and petting the cat. There are still more Iraq posts to come over the next few days, but meanwhile you can read about what I got up to on Monday and Tuesday this week thanks to Jane Moon, blogging about the Ur Region Archaeological Project, which she co-directs. You'll have to read her if you want to make sense of the title of this post!
Wednesday, 10 April 2013
Sunday 7 April
Saad very kindly lent me his car and driving team to take me from INLA to the Iraq Museum and then back to the British Embassy. Here are some shots taken from the car window as we crawled through traffic.
There's surprisingly little construction in Baghdad still (outside the INLA compound), presumably because corruption and insecurity make the costs and risks too high. So the city still looks very war-torn, ten years on, but there's a huge amount of small-to-large-scale enterprise in evidence.
Note the new red double-deckers, which arrived 5 or 6 months ago. (They were quite a feature of pre-war Baghdad too.)
Lots of delicious-looking street food for sale:
A public monument (covered in heritage images), mosque and the railway terminus, all by the Iraq Museum, which is adjacent to a furniture-making quarter. (Traffic was much lighter here, so my photo isn't great.)
Tuesday, 9 April 2013
Sunday 7 April
(Updated with a few more images on 10 April)
Without memory, how can we know who we are? This is the question that drives Dr Saad Eskander, LSE-trained historian and, since 2003, Director of the Iraqi National Library and Archives.Saad talks passionately of the imperative to locate, preserve and digitise as much as possible of Iraq's documentation so that history will not just remember the oppressors but also the oppressed.
But Saad does not just talk: for the past decade he has also been putting those words into action in many different ways. The books lining his elegant office were once owned by the Iraqi royal family and then passed into the hands of Saddam Hussein. The glamour of their bindings reminds me a little of King George's Library at the British Library. But conspicuous amongst them are a much tattier pile of books lying on their sides, in clear need of rebinding and conservation. These are an important national collection too but had been long neglected because they are written in Hebrew, not Arabic. It's Saad's mission to safeguard all of Iraq's written heritage, whatever its origins.
He takes me on a whistlestop tour of the departments, sleeves rolled up and coffee mug in hand. In one large office, staff are digitising microfilms of state records; in another they are scanning the personal files of those executed or exiled by the Baathists: Jews, Iranians, political dissidents, anyone thought to be a trouble-maker. The dictatorship's passion for bureaucracy at least means that the oppressed have not disappeared entirely without trace. There is at least a little comfort in that thought, and much poignancy in the forlorn photos looking up at us.
A third suite of labs and offices is devoted to the restoration and digitisation of Ottoman court records. They are horribly mouldy, so are stored in freezers before being disinfected, cleaned, flattened and dried. Then they are mounted into books of Japanese paper and scanned. There are Monarch-period documents on the drying racks too. It's this team who trained Mr Kamal's conservation lab in Kerbala.
Another office, another preservation exercise. This team is processing Mandate-period records. I pick one up from the top of the nearest pile; it is a handwritten telegraph despatch asking the reason for the imprisonment of a certain local sheikh. A detailed reply is on the next sheet down. Maps and photographs are stored in a separate office. By and large they need less conservation work.
Digitisation equipment has also just arrived for the Sound of Iraq project, which BISI has helped to fund along with the British Library. The BL have been training sound technicians to transfer vinyl and shellac records of traditional Iraqi music and poetry to digital media. However, INLA hasn't abandoned traditional media altogether; some documents are still being photographed onto film as well as being scanned.
There's a huge foundation pit within the INLA compound, which will before long become a four-storey digital library. A recently completed archive building will house the ongoing digitisation work and receive visiting researchers. But the aim is to put all of the material online too, so that it can be accessed free from anywhere in the world.
The library, which is currently full, will then expand to gradually fill the existing building. As a copyright deposit library, it has a right to a copy of every book and periodical published in Iraq. It also publishes three or four journals of its own and runs an exchange programme with institutions in other countries. The library catalogue is online, and the reading room welcomed over 20,000 visitors last year. A dedicated children's library has just been built and is currently acquiring its first stock of books (below).
All this activity, and it's not even 9am yet! Saad knows all his employees by name, because he has hired them all personally and takes a close interest in their welfare and personal development. There are two nurseries onsite, as well as a canteen. The majority of the technical staff are women (Sunni and Shi'a, Arab and Kurd) and Saad urges them to be independent, critical thinkers--at home, as well as at work. The staff themselves hold annual elections to choose departmental heads, and selected Saad's own office team from amongst themselves.
INLA also puts on cultural performances and exhibitions. Most movingly, Saad has just received a large white box in his office, which he opens once our tour is over. Inside are all the original artworks from the international anthology, Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, put together in commemoration of the bombing of the Baghdad booksellers' market in 2007, and which has also toured as a performance and exhibition. Soon it will return to the street which inspired it, which Saad tells me is now thriving again.
Monday, 8 April 2013
I'm now in Baghdad airport (free wifi!) waiting for a flight to Basra. From there I'm going straight to the Ur Regional Archaeology Project's dig at Tell Khaiber (where they have a newly discovered cuneiform tablet waiting for me to decipher!) and heading home to the UK on Wednesday.
I've had a marvellous time in Baghdad, and will write soon about my visits to the Iraqi National Library and Archive (INLA) and the Iraq Museum yesterday. Upload speeds aren't fast enough here to post photo-based stuff. So for now I just want to say a heartfelt thank you to my hosts here, both personally on behalf of BISI: the British Embassy and British Council Iraq; and INLA's director, Dr Saad Eskander. All of them have gone out of their way to make my time in Baghdad both enjoyable and highly productive (not to mention safe!).