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Fostering the sustainable development of heritage in post-conflict iraq and its neighbours


Cultural heritage and reconstruction — a view from Mosul University

By Eleanor Robson, on 7 January 2020

Panellists at the Chatham House round-table on cultural heritage in Iraq

Panellists at the Chatham House round-table on the role of cultural heritage in the reconstruction of Iraq, 2 October 2019

On 3 October 2019, The Nahrein Network organised a round-table discussion on the role of cultural heritage in state-building, as part of Chatham House Iraq Initiative’s conference, Iraq in Transition.

Professor Kossay al Ahmedy, Chancellor of the University of Mosul, gave a local perspective.

I will speak about the University of Mosul.

DAESH’s occupation of Mosul has been hugely detrimental. Nineveh, capital of the ancient Assyrian state, saw a great deal of damage and destruction. 83% of the Old City of Mosul was destroyed, including its most iconic and historic sites.

DAESH undermined and attacked culture.

One of the most important cultural sites is the University of Mosul. Large parts of it were also destroyed – we had 70% destruction and over 300 buildings damaged and destroyed.

The electricity network of the university was 80% destroyed. 50% of the water network, 50% of the road network were also destroyed.

217 university vehicles disappeared from the university.

The central library lost 1 million books.

Now, the question is, why did ISIS target and destroy Mosul University so severely?

We have 48,000 students enrolled. 8,091 staff and 24 huge faculties. 125 scientific institutions and 7 research centres.

Mosul University is like a city within a city.

It’s a learning and education zone. That is why it was targeted – the intellectual class was attacked and undermined, including culture.

With international friends we are working to rebuild Mosul University. The university is not about formal education only. Its role is to rebuild ideas. We have achieved a military victory but not yet a victory in thoughts and ideas. The university is key to rebuilding this.

The university is a key institution, able to rebuild the city and to rebuild the intellectual life of the city.

People lost hope. Most historical landmarks have been lost – destroyed. How can we revive hope for the people, especially the youth?

How to access the youth is key. Key question: Do youth watch and observe media – no! They don’t, they only focus on social media. Our university publishes a monthly newspaper. Most youth do not read newspapers, therefore we need to focus on social media.

We have 16 workers in the media department, and we set up tens of websites and social media sites – to transfer knowledge, using the language they understand.

Key to our work is to use media and knowledge to rebuild youth and their understanding of the situation in Mosul.

Now I am always smiling. My smile is a message – that we can rebuild Iraq and rebuild Mosul and build our culture and society who share our ideas.

We need international assistance. The challenges are immense and therefore we need to work together. We all have a responsibility to rebuild so that we can prevent this catastrophe from happening again.


This summary of Professor Al-Ahmedy’s words was compiled by Dr Mehiyar Kathem.

This event is part of a project funded by a UCL Public Policy Expert Engagement grant.

Cultural heritage and state-building — an international view

By Eleanor Robson, on 7 January 2020

Panellists at the Chatham House round-table on cultural heritage in Iraq

Panellists at the Chatham House round-table on the role of cultural heritage in the reconstruction of Iraq, 2 October 2019

On 3 October 2019, The Nahrein Network organised a round-table discussion on the role of cultural heritage in state-building, as part of Chatham House Iraq Initiative’s conference, Iraq in Transition.

Ms Alice Walpole, Deputy head of mission for the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq, spoke about the role of international organisations in supporting heritage for state-building.

In September 2016, while I was working in Mali, the International Criminal Court in The Hague handed out its first ever sentence for cultural crimes. An Al Qaeda commander was convicted of involvement in the destruction of nine mausolea and a mosque in Timbuktu. This case gave rise to renewed international debate on the significance of culture in conflict. Why do parties to conflict target cultural heritage, and should an attack on a cultural artefact – building, manuscript, statue – constitute a war crime?

Throughout history, culture, ethnicity, religion or language have been leveraged to promote, intensify or justify conflict. Our cultural heritage describes who we are; it sets us within our historical context; it links us to our ancestors and will, in due course, link us to our descendants. An assault on our cultural heritage, then, is an attempt to deny our very identity. Da’esh’s physical destruction in Iraq and Syria of archaeological sites, places of worship, schools, cultural centres such as theatres and museums, and historical artefacts are a recent violent example of that urge to erase history; the desire to obliterate all narrative that runs counter to their world view; to deny human rights and freedom of expression with the imposition of a restrictive ideology.

An imposition against which many have fought back over the centuries. Our cultures make us proud. And protective. I suspect it was that proud and protective impulse that compelled my friend Father Najeeb, now Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul and Akra, and others to load the priceless library from a Dominican monastery into vehicles, and remove them, at considerable personal danger, from Mosul to a safe house in Erbil in the face of advancing Da’esh forces. The library comprises a unique collection of ancient manuscripts dating back to the 9th century, and printed books from as early as 1515; in addition to Christian texts, there are works on geography, history and mathematics, as well as Islamic, Jewish and Yazidi literature.  We start to understand the value placed on cultural heritage when we learn what risks our fellow citizens will take to protect it.

Those of us in a position to be able to support the rehabilitation of cultural heritage post-conflict, are eager to tap into that popular pride and affection. Because while culture can be exploited to cause conflict, in the aftermath of conflict, it can also play a vital role in reconciliation and inter-communal understanding. In fact, many of us believe that culture sits at the heart of all sustainable recovery and rehabilitation of societies.

Disputes over political access, land rights and the distribution of wealth and resources often remain unresolved in post-conflict environments and then serve to exacerbate future community tensions. But culture – the product of historical interactions between individuals and communities, representing shared understandings of the world – can serve as an entry point to a resolution of these disputes by reminding all parties of their religious, literary, linguistic or philosophical links to each other; or even simple commonalities such as a shared traditional dress, cuisine or dance.

This is culture as a unifying power. It is the reason the United Nations believes that the work of UNESCO is integral to the comprehensive, complex UN-supported rehabilitation programme currently underway in Iraq’s governorates liberated from ISIL.

Today, the United Nations in Iraq is seeking to promote a counter-narrative to Da’esh. A narrative of peaceful co-existence, reconciliation, respect for diversity and creativity. At the heart of this is the project ‘Reviving the Spirit of Mosul’, constructed around three pillars: rebuilding historical, cultural and religious infrastructure; strengthening education and returning children to school; reviving the cultural life of the Old City. It is important to note that the project goes beyond physical infrastructure – the EU has just approved a 20m euro project for urban rehabilitation in Mosul’s Old City, targeting youth and other returnees to provide them with skills and job opportunities. A similar project will be rolled out in Basra, again with a focus on urban regeneration. It will be important, in the longer term, that the Iraqi state takes full ownership of these projects, along with a strategy to protect, maintain and promote access to Iraq’s rich cultural heritage in all its forms for future generations.

I have long viewed culture as a driver for reconciliation. In 2009, I was appointed British Consul General in Basra, on the heels of the departing British Army. One of the items I inherited from them was an assessment, by the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, British Army Royal Engineers and British Museum, that Saddam Hussein’s former Lakeside Palace in Basra would make an ideal new antiquities museum for Basra and southern Iraq.

Accordingly, in 2010, a small group of us, including a renowned Iraqi archaeologist, a former British Ambassador to Iraq and former Iraqi ambassador to Britain and a senior curator at the British Museum, formed the Friends of Basrah Museum to help bring this idea to life. BP made a very generous donation to get the project off the ground and other donors, including international companies active in southern Iraq, chipped in.

After much consultation between Baghdad, Basra and London, a constructive dialogue with the Basra Provincial Council, and sustained, resourceful and dedicated activity led by the Museum Director Qahtan al-Abeed, the first gallery of the Basra Museum opened in September 2016 and three more galleries (displaying some 2000 Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian artefacts) in March 2019.

Strikingly, since the museum’s opening, some 600 historical artefacts have been handed over by private citizens to the Basra Museum. Six hundred historical artefacts that families kept safe during times of war and instability. And which they are now eager to share with the wider community.

It’s this human dimension that is key if Iraq is to repair and sustain its cultural heritage. When I was in Erbil recently, I called on Father Najeeb. In the front room of his home, a young woman was repairing a damaged historical manuscript. I could see from her dress that she was Christian. The manuscript was an Islamic hadith. I commented that she was working on a Muslim text. Of course, she said; I am an Iraqi, and this document is part of my Iraqi heritage.

This event is part of a project funded by a UCL Public Policy Expert Engagement grant.

Iraqi cultural heritage – a national view

By Eleanor Robson, on 7 January 2020

Panellists at the Chatham House round-table on cultural heritage in Iraq

Panellists at the Chatham House round-table on the role of cultural heritage in the reconstruction of Iraq, 3 October 2019

On 3 October 2019, The Nahrein Network organised a round-table discussion on the role of cultural heritage in the reconstruction of, as part of Chatham House Iraq Initiative’s conference, Iraq in Transition.

Dr Abdulameer al Hamdani, Iraq’s Minister of Culture, gave his vision of the role of heritage in Iraq’s future. 

The Ministry of Culture has 15,000 employees working across Iraq. The Ministry is responsible for diverse fields of culture, including cinema, fashion, theatre and antiquities.

Cultural heritage could be a unifying force in the country, used as a tool to unite people. It can be used to respect minorities, indigenous minorities – all communities, but ultimately, we are looking for a national identity.

Heritage can be used for peacebuilding and peacemaking. Wars did not help us to focus on these priorities.

We need to avoid another Halabja. We need to open a dialogue with each other. Excavations in Iraq attest to this shared history.

Heritage can be used as a tool for unification.

Culture and heritage will determine the future of Iraq.

Culture is key. SBAH is encouraging Iraqi universities to work on excavations and of course also international excavations. We have 60 expeditions in the country.

Since the 1980s, the previous regime and dictatorship, Iraq has been isolated. We are now back to normal in terms of field work and excavations. A few month months ago we were able to inscribe Babylon as a World Heritage Site, working closely with UNESCO to do this. Given this energy, we are working now to inscribe 12 new sites, including the Yezidi site of Lalish. This shows the Iraqi Government does care about minorities in the country.

There is increasing interest in heritage in Iraq and from the international side.

We believe heritage in Iraq is a global heritage and SBAH is responsible for that. We need to focus on cultural diversity.

The international community is helping us, standing with us.

Looters in 2003 said that heritage artefacts belonged to Saddam or were non-Islamic. But I worked with the Shia Clergy to put a stop to this looting. An edict and amnesty helped return 30,000 looted artefacts.

Our museums are open, which shows that Baghdad is a normal city.

We are organising the first international conference on cultural heritage, planned for April 2020, to share knowledge and unify the country. We hope to see 300/400 participants in this conference.

The purpose of the conference is to think about whether it is just stones we are looking at, or is it more?

We will build a new cultural complex, a new museum. The current one will be used as an Islamic civilisation museum.

SBAH has experience with international institutions since the 1950s.

We are open to dialogue, to discussions about how we can use heritage for peace and development.

We consider the country’s communities as natural heritage, organic to the country.

This summary of Dr Al-Hamdani’s words was compiled by Dr Mehiyar Kathem.

  • Read a summary of Professor Kossay Al-Ahmedy’s presentation
  • Read Alice Walpole’s presentation

This event is part of a project funded by a UCL Public Policy Expert Engagement grant.

Teaching medieval history in Baghdad and Sheffield

By Eleanor Robson, on 24 September 2019

Professor Maher Al-Helli is an expert in medieval history at Mustansiriyah University in Baghdad. Throughout April and May 2019 he held a Nahrein-BISI Visiting Scholarship in the History Department at the University of Sheffield. We are enormously grateful to our colleagues in the Sheffield History Department for making him so warmly welcome.

Here Professor Maher writes for us about his experiences.

Developing university teaching skills for the effective study of medieval history: The subject of history and cultural heritage as a model

Prof Maher Al-Helli with Sheffield University colleagues Prof Martial Staub, Dr Danica Summerlin and Dr Casey Strine, as well as the Nahrein Network’s director, Prof Eleanor Robson

I spent a lot of time at Sheffield University, where I met with Prof. Martial Staub, my supervisor in the History Department. I got many ideas from him through his assistance to me in teaching the Middle Ages to the History Department’s student. We exchanged information about the ways and means of developing skills in university education.

  • I attended a lot of Prof. Martial’s lectures, in topics such as Empires – Crusades, the Holy Roman Empire, the Social and Political History of Iberia and Latin America, Internal Crusades, Black Sea Empires, Ethnicity and Empire and Peace of Religion.
  • Also, I attended many lectures with professors such as Social and Political History of Iberia and Latin America – Islamic Spain (Prof. Phil Swanson), War of the Roses (Dr. Elizabeth Goodwin) and How Involuntary Migration Created Ancient Israel ( Dr. Casey Strine).
  • I got great benefit from Sheffield University Library, where I found many English-language history books near to my speciality. I collected a lot of paper and electronic
  • I attended a lot of seminars in Islamic and medieval history.
  • I gave a lecture to the students in the history department under the title: Ancient and medieval history of Iraq.
  • I did a course in English language and I got a certificate of participation from The English Language Teaching Center and Learn for Life/Enterprise.
  • I wrote an article in the Arabic language about new ways and means of developing skills in university education.
  • I worked on translating the book by Hugh Kennedy: Muslim Spain and Portugal: A political history of al-Andalus (1996) and I will complete it soon.
  • I formulated a joint project between Mustansiriyah University and Sheffield University to hold an academic conference in Baghdad next year, 2020.

I also visited London city 20th-31st May, where I saw the most important collection of archeology and heritage in the British Museum and found some rare books in The British Library.

  • I also met Prof. Kennedy at SOAS and visited The Nahrein Network at University College London.
  • I visited a lot of museums in London such as the National History Museum, Science Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum.
  • In the end of the research trip, I visited The British Institute for the Study of Iraq at the British Academy and discussed possible future programmes of collaboration.

I am happy to have visited the United Kingdom because I gained great professional benefit from the experience. I hope to I visit the UK again soon, for a longer time.



Mosul University Library at the British Library

By Eleanor Robson, on 20 August 2019

A Visiting Scholarship Q & A with Mohammed Jasim

Mohammed Jasim (centre) with BL colleagues Eleanor Cooper, ..., and Daniel Lowe, and Nahrein Network director Eleanor Robson

Mohammed Jasim (centre) with BL colleagues Eleanor Cooper, Marcie Hopkins, and Daniel Lowe, and Nahrein Network director Eleanor Robson

Earlier this summer, Mr Mohammed Jasim Aal-Hajiahmed spent the first month of a BISI-Nahrein Visiting Scholarship at the British Library, hosted by Daniel Lowe (Curator of Arabic Collections) and many kind colleagues. Thank you very much to all of them!

Although Mohammed is currently studying for a PhD at the University of Barcelona, until October 2018 he was the Director of Mosul University Library. He is still closely connected to Mosul University and the library team, and his expertise in English means that he is able to liaise very effectively between the UK and Iraq.

At the end of his placement, we asked Mohammed to tell us about what he had learned during his time in London, and what he wants to do with it.

Nahrein: What were the main benefits of your scholarship?

Mohammed: There were many benefits! Here are ten—

  1. I learned how the digitization process works at one of the world’s leading cultural institutions, the British Library.
  2. Throughout my placement I learned how to set up a digitization unit at Mosul University Library, which should be one of the priorities at this time.
  3. I shadowed as many people as possible at the BL and got an idea of everybody’s work, which in turn helps us rebuilding our library collection as we are starting from scratch.
  4.  I set up a network with different people who represent institutions and universities which help get support for Mosul University Library.
  5. I looked for partnership opportunities with UK libraries: SOAS and UCL libraries are good examples where there is potential for future work.
  6. I gave a talk to BL staff about the situation of Mosul University Library before and after ISIS which was a good message to everybody who can be of support.
  7. My talk  helped BL staff understand better the issues that Mosul University Library is facing. Now we can address any problems we have to the right person at the BL and they will understand.
  8. Thanks to tens of meetings with specialists, I now understand a lot more about important topics related to library work, such as metadata, preservation, electronic library systems, etc. This will help us a lot as we are building up our collections again.
  9. Through my placement at Boston Spa for three days, I learned how can we provide newspapers with suitable environments to protect them.
  10. I was able to contact the right person about the important issue of reactivating Mosul University Library’s OCLC account.

Nahrein: What was the main highlight of your scholarship? 

Mohammed: The main highlights were:

  • Learning how to digitize and document recovered materials and how to set up a digitization unit at Mosul University Library.
  • Beginning to discuss partnership with SOAS library and further steps needed.
  • Networking as we are trying to get support for Mosul University Library.
  • Throughout our meetings we were able to work on various practical issues related to Mosul University library, such as the OCLC account, access to e-materials, etc.

Nahrein: What were the main things you learnt from the British Library?

Mohammed: I actually learned a lot from the BL as I shadowed a lot of people there and spent good time in most of its departments. However, the most important ones were:

  • I got an idea about library e-systems and discussed the possibilities of applying some of them at Mosul University Library.
  • I learned how to preserve and digitise manuscripts.
  • I learned how to train library staff and share expertise with them. I also learned how to distribute the tasks amongst the staff.
  • I learned how the BL buys resources for the library and how to deal with donated special collections.
  • I also learned how to work with public libraries in the same region.

Nahrein: How has the scholarship helped you in your work in Iraq?

Mohammed: It helped me a lot as we are trying to rebuild our library collections after the destruction and burning caused by ISIS’ occupation of the city of Mosul. As I mentioned earlier, I learned how to set up a digitization unit at our library, especially the equipment needed and the training required. I will apply what I learned from my placement at the BL to Mosul University in general and to Mosul University Library in particular, sharing what I have learned with my colleagues at Mosul University Library.

Nahrein: What will you do to continue your research in Iraq?

Mohammed: Again, I will share the experience with the library staff and work on what I have achieved during my placement, especially with regard to partnership opportunities, access to e-materials, training opportunities for the library staff and following up the expected support for the library from the people I met. All that will be in coordination with Mosul University and the library’s administration.

We’re all looking forward very much to welcoming Mohammed back to London and the British Library in a few months time for the second half of his Visiting Scholarship placement.

Cultural (dis)continuity, political trajectories and the state in post-2003 Iraq

By Eleanor Robson, on 25 June 2019

Our postdoctoral researcher, Dr Mehiyar Kathem, has published an article in the International Journal of Heritage Studies.

In it, he argues that:

Cultural continuity and the political trajectories of states are intimately intertwined. What happens to state institutions, how they are transformed through the interventions of external and domestic actors, affects heritage and its continuity in myriad ways. This paper looks at heritage in relation to the state and sites of power through the prism of cultural continuity, which can offer a more nuanced and historical perspective of the field of heritage in situations of change, transformation and conflict. It examines the repercussions of Iraq’s political system based on political quotas installed under the occupation of Iraq, where state institutions, including those of heritage, are allocated as electoral windfalls to competing political groups. The ensuing institutional disorder, absence of centralised rule and multiplicity of overlapping power structures in the country have detrimentally affected the conditions of Iraq’s heritage. International heritage interventions too have been largely ineffective in the face of the catastrophic damage inflicted on the sector since 2003. I argue that the fragmentation of state institutions and on the other hand a weak international heritage infrastructure, concerned mainly with its own priorities, has left Iraq’s heritage in a perpetual state of crisis that has not been addressed in any meaningful way.

Full reference:

Follow the link above for a free PDF download. The print version, with pagination, will follow in due course.



Building Ancient Boats for Today’s Iraq

By Eleanor Robson, on 11 June 2019

Safina Projects on the revival of Iraqi watercraft heritage

By Hannah Lewis

I arrived in Iraq for the first time on 14th April this year.

1 Guffa coracle, Tarada canoe, and Delil barge guide-boat, on the Euphrates at Hit 12 April 2019 - copyright Rashad Salim

1 Guffa coracle, Tarada canoe, and Delil barge guide-boat, on the Euphrates at Hit 12 April 2019 – copyright Rashad Salim

The visit felt overdue: it was almost two years ago, in June 2017, that I co-founded Safina Projects with my husband, the expeditionary artist Rashad Salim, and joined him on a mission to revive, protect and study the traditional boats and craft heritage of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. My experience lies in project management and grant fundraising, so I took on the back office role –applying for funding, reporting to funders, admin and communications – while Rashad was in the field, tracking down the last few craftspeople who know how to build traditional boats like the Guffa coracle, Meshouf canoe and Isbiya barge.

2 Two Taradas and Chilaika on the Euphrates at Babylon 20 April 2019 - copyright Rashad Salim

2. Two Taradas and Chilaika on the Euphrates at Babylon 20 April 2019 – copyright Rashad Salim

These watercraft represent a heritage that has endured since earliest recorded history, but is now on the verge of extinction. Through a series of boat reconstruction workshops and oral history recordings – as part of our current projects, “Thesiger’s Tarada” supported by Nahrein Network (AHRC), and “An Ark for Iraq” supported by the Cultural Protection Fund (British Council with DCMS) – Safina Projects has documented these boats in detail, from the materials used to the making techniques, structure and traditional terminology associated with each boat type.

Through daily conversations with Rashad and through the thousands of photos and video recordings he has captured, I already felt familiar with the boats, their settings and the communities involved in their making. But seeing them at first hand would be very different, and I was excited to experience the real boats, the rivers and wetlands, and to meet the people Rashad had been working with for many months.

3. Hannah with Sajjad and Abu Muhenid paddling Nawfili at Chibayish 24 April 2019 - copyright Rashad Salim

3. Hannah with Sajjad and Abu Muhenid paddling Nawfili at Chibayish 24 April 2019 – copyright Rashad Salim

My two week trip was a whistle-stop tour, checking in at Baghdad, Hilla, Basra, Huwair, Chibayish, Nassiriya, Samawa, and back to Baghdad. Many days were filled with meetings, updating partners on our project progress and planning the next stages. We’re collaborating with organisations including Humat Dijlah and Humat Furat (the Tigris and Euphrates Protectors, an environmental activist network), the Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Water Resources, and several universities and museums. Joint efforts include river expeditions, boat training events, and student projects featuring the documentation of boats using architectural drawing techniques (University of Basra, architectural department) and the transciption of oral history recordings for our planned digital archive and online museum (University of Thi-Qar, sociology department).

4 Leila helps tar the Nawfili - copyright Hannah Lewis

4. Leila helps tar the Nawfili – copyright Hannah Lewis

We’re working towards the culmination of the Nahrein-funded Thesiger’s Tarada project: bringing one of our reconstructions of Wilfred Thesiger’s iconic Tarada (Sheikh’s canoe) along with a Guffa coracle to participate in London’s Totally Thames festival this September. We’ll then hold a major exhibition at Basra Museum in October, when a second reconstructed Tarada will make its way from the boatyard at Huwair downriver to Basra, and be displayed in the Museum alongside photographs from Thesiger’s archive (provided by our partners at the Pitt Rivers Museum) and selected archaeological artefacts that offer clues to the development of the Tarada and its predecessors dating back to Sumerian times.

Progress in building partnerships was satisfying, but my favourite moments were those when I could forget about planning, step into one of the boats and be carried on the fast-flowing waters of the Euphrates at Babylon, or move into the deep quiet of the marshlands at Chibayish, where we stopped in a small Mudhif guesthouse on a reed island, and I practised paddling a Nawfili (a particular type of canoe named for the tribe who commissioned them, who preferred a more upright prow resembling those seen in Sumerian boat depictions). Observing some of the boat-making at first hand was a joy too, and even our 2-year-old daughter became totally absorbed in “helping” to tar the Nawfili, using a scrap of wood to push cooled tar into the gaps between the boards at the edge of the boat, while boatbuilder Abu Muhenid swiftly rolled hot taronto the larger surfaces.

5 Abu Muhenid tarring the Nawfili - copyright Rashad Salim

5. Abu Muhenid tarring the Nawfili – copyright Rashad Salim

I also loved watching others using the boats, particularly during the training event we held at the Babylon archaeological site (19-21 April), when 28 young members of Humat Dijlah’s network who are keen to participate in our upcoming Euphrates Expeditions attended to practice the art of paddling Guffas and Meshoufs, as well as learning First Aid and oral history skills. The camaraderie of being part of a boat crew, the sheer enjoyment of being out on the water, and the shared pride in an ancient heritage that’s intimately connected with that environment, combined to make the experience very special for everyone involved.

6. Tarada, Meshoufs and Guffas at Babylon training event 20 April 2019 - copyright Rashad Salim

6. Tarada, Meshoufs and Guffas at Babylon training event 20 April 2019 – copyright Rashad Salim

As our current projects draw to an end, the next challenge is how to sustain the boatbuilding practices that have been revived: how to forge some continuity for this heritage when the boats no longer serve their traditional functions, having been pushed out of existence by industrial substitutes (truck transport or motorboats), by damage to the environments in which they traditionally operated, and by the rupture of intergenerational knowledge transfer? There are no easy answers, but my experiences in Iraq demonstrated that traditional boats still have the power to bring people together and generate pride in post-conflict Iraq. They may no longer serve a central role in the economy, but in sectors like tourism, sports and leisure, culture and education, they bring a unique ingredient – perhaps a glimpse of how heritage can be engaged, not just as an effort to preserve the past, but as the foundation of a future that honours traditional knowledge, local ecology, and the vernacular heritage that has outlasted successive civilisations in Mesopotamia.

تطوير المشاريع الثقافية، كيفية كتابة مشروع ناجح في ١٠ خطوات

By Eleanor Robson, on 2 April 2019

تم عقد ورش عمل للراغبين بالتقديم على برامج شكبة النهرين , اذ يوجد هناك برنامجين لدى الشبكة هما (برنامج الباحث الزائر) و (برنامج المنحة البحث).

.(in English) توجد ايضا نسخة انكليزية, اضغط هنا

 قبل القيام بكتابة المشروع

١. اختيارالبرنامج الذي  يناسبك

ماذا سيوفر لك البرنامج الذ ستختاره؟

هل سيقوم البرنامج بتمويل ما تنوي القيام به؟

هل انت مستوفي لشروط البرنامج الذي ستقدم عليه؟

٢. اقرأ دليل البرنامج

ماهو تاريخ انتهاء التقديم؟

هل تحتاج الى وثائق تدعم مشروعك؟

هل هناك أي حاجة الى الترجمة؟

اكتب قائمة بكل ماهو مطلوب منك لغرض اكمال التقديم على البرنامج

حاول ان تاخذ وقت طويل في التفكير والتخطيط

٣. طلب ​​المساعدة

هل انت بحاجة الى رسالة توصية؟

هل هناك حاجة الى مترجم؟

من الافضل ان تعرض مشروعك البعض لكي يتم مراجعته

اطلب واسال بشكل مهذب

ابلغهم بتاريخ انتهاء التقديم

اسالهم عن الوقت الذي سيتمكنون من الاطلاع على مشروعك

اكتب كل التواريخ المهمة في مفكرتك


٤. اشرح مشروعك. بشكل واضح

مالذي ستفعله؟

لماذا مشروعك مهم؟

لماذا تظن ان مشروعك جديد وغير مطروق سابقا؟

لماذا مشروعك مهم؟

من الذي سيستفاد منه؟

بالتأكيد فان اجوبة هذه الاسئلة تكون واضحة بالنسبة لك ولكنها ربما لا تكون واضحة بالنسبة للمقومين, لذلك اكتب لهم وكأنهم لا يعلمون شيئا عن مشروعك.

٥.   اشرح بالتفصيل دورك ودور فريقك ودور شريكك البريطاني

ما الذي يجعلك مؤهل لمثل هكذا مشروع؟

ما الذي تمتلكه من خبرة؟

ما الذي تحتاجه من تدريب؟

اذكر لماذا تحتاج كل عضو في فريقك؟

اشرح الدور الذي سيقوم به شريكك البريطاني؟

٦.  اذكر المدة التي يستغرقها المشروع

فكر جيدا بمتطلبات مشروعك المختلفة؟

ماهي المهمة المحددة لكل شخص؟

مالذي ستبدأ بفعله اولا؟

ضع مخطط زمني مبسط لما ستقوم به

٧.  بين حاجة مشروعك الى التمويل

ماهي الاجهزة المطلوبة لانجاز المشروع؟

ما هي المواد او المعدات المطلوبة؟

هل تحتاج خبراء في مجال معين؟

لماذا تحتاج خبراء في مشروعك؟

ما الذي يتوفر لديك اصلا من خبراء؟

٨.  وضح الكلفة التخمينية لمشروعك؟

قم باعداد موازنة مبسطة لتكاليف انجاز المشروع

راتب كل عضو بالفريق

كلفة الاجهزة والادوات والمواد

كلفة الخدمات التي يقدمها الخبراء

كلفة الفعاليلا والنقل والمبيت وغيرها

بعض المشاريع تحتاج الى موازنة مستقلة

٩.  وضح النتائج المتوقعة من مشروع بحثك

ما الذي سيتوصل اليه بحثك؟

ما الذي يحدثه من فرق؟

كيف ستعرف ان بحثك قد حقق اهدافه؟

كيف ستكون هناك فائدة طويلة الامد من البحث

من هي الجهات المستفيدة من البحث

قبل أن تقدم المشروع

١٠. دقق كل شيء

بإمكانك ارسال مسودة المشروع الى من طلبت منهم توصيات, المترجمين, المصحح اللغوي , رؤسائك في العمل

اطلب منهم نصائح او تصحيحات وخذ بها

اقرأ التعليمات مرى ثانية

تأكد من تصحيح الاخطاء الطباعية وتنضيد النص

تأكد من ان الشكل النهائي لمشروعك منضد بشكل علمي ومهني

Developing Cultural Projects: 10 steps to writing a successful grant proposal

By Eleanor Robson, on 2 April 2019

We have developed these guidelines in workshops for potential applicants to our own Research Grants and Visiting Scholars schemes. We hope they are useful for other grant applications too. There is an Arabic version of this document here (بلعربي).

Before you start writing:

1. Choose the right scheme

  • What does the scheme offer?
  • Will it fund the work you want to do?
  • Are you eligible to apply?

Read all the information carefully.

Contact the scheme administrator if you have questions.

2. Read the guidelines

  • When is the deadline?
  • Do you need to provide extra documentation?
  • Do you need to translate anything?

Make a list of all the things you will need to do.

Plan lots of time to do all of this.

3. Ask for help

  • Will you need a referee?
  • Will you need a translator?
  • You should always find somebody to read and check your draft

Ask them politely.

  • Tell them about the deadline
  • Ask them when they will need to see your draft
  • Put all these dates in your diary

When you write:

4. Describe and explain your project

  • What will you do?
  • Why is it necessary?
  • Why is it new?
  • Why is it important?
  • Who will benefit from it?

The answers may be obvious to you, but they will not be obvious to the assessors. Assume they know nothing!

5. Describe yourself, your team, and your partners

  • What makes you qualified to lead this project?
  • What experience do you have?
  • What extra training do you need?
  • Explain why you need each member on the team (if relevant)
  • Explain what your partners will do (if relevant)

6. Show how long your project will take

Think carefully about the different tasks in your project
  • Who will do each one?
  • How long will each task take?
  • Which tasks must be done first?

Make a simple timetable of work.

Some proposals require a separate timetable.

7. Justify the resources your project will need

  • What equipment will you need?
  • What materials will you need?
  • What specialist services will you need?
  • Why does your project need them?
  • What do you already have?

8. Show how much your project will cost

Make a simple budget including:

  • Each team member’s salary
  • Equipment and materials
  • Specialist services
  • Expenses for events, travel,  accommodation, etc.

Some proposals require a separate budget.

9. Describe the expected results of your project

  • What will your project deliver?
  • What difference will it make?
  • How will you know if it is successful?
  • What will be the long-term benefits?
  • Who will benefit from it?

Before you submit:

10. Check everything!

Send a draft to your referee, translator, editor, boss…

  • Ask for their feedback and use it

Re-read the guidelines

  • Make sure you have followed them exactly

Check your spelling and formatting

  • Make sure your proposal looks professional!


Report on a workshop for managers of Iraqi museums

By Eleanor Robson, on 15 January 2019

Workshop held at the Imam Hussein Holy Shrine, Karbala, 26 November 2018: report by Paul Collins

Organized by Dr Paul Collins (Nahrein Network), Dr Alaa Ahmed (Imam Hussein Museum), and Dr Jaafar Jotheri (Qadisiyah University)


The museums workshop in progress

The workshop brought together twenty-three representatives of seventeen museums (out of twenty-one museums that had accepted an invitation to attend) from across Iraq, along with interested parties from the Prime Minister’s Office, Mosul University, and Najaf University:

  1. Al-Ataba al-Husseiniya, Imam Hussein Holy Shrine, Karbala
  2. Al-Kafeel Museum, Imam Abbas Holy Shrine, Karbala
  3. Al-Muthanna Museum
  4. Amarah Museum
  5. Anbar Museum
  6. Babylon Museum
  7. Basrah Museum
  8. Diwaniyah Museum
  9. Diyala Museum
  10. Green Zone Museum
  11. Kut Museum
  12. Mosul Museum
  13. Najaf Museum
  14. Nasiriyah Museum
  15. Samarra Museum
  16. Samawah Museum
  17. Wasit Museum

Not in attendance: Duhok Museum, Erbil Museum, Kirkuk Museum, and Sulaymaniyah Museum.

Although the majority of the museums represented at the workshop are run by the SBAH, a small number are linked to universities or religious institutions with different organisational structures and resources. The museums vary considerably in the size of the populations they serve, ranging from cultural heritage sites to provincial centres and major cities like Basra and Baghdad. This inevitably means that there are many variables around local and regional demographics and infrastructures that need to be considered in evaluating the responses to the workshop questions. Indeed, some museums are not open (e.g. Mosul) and lack display cases (e.g. Diyala).

The principal aim of the workshop was to bring together museum professionals from across Iraq to assess the current situation and explore opportunities for knowledge exchange, especially around best practice. This is the first occasion that such a meeting has been taken place in Iraq, certainly within the last three decades. It was hoped that one outcome might be the formation of a network of country-wide museum professionals. An offer by Dr Alaa Ahmed, Director of the Imam Hussein Museum, to lead on the establishment of an Iraqi Museums Association to be based in Karbala was warmly welcomed by the participants.

Fortunately the workshop venue did not completely stifle discussion

The plan for the workshop was to use break-out spaces where small groups could discuss a series of questions, record their answers on flip charts, before coming together to share and discuss the results. The available space—a lecture room with fixed, tiered seating—meant it was necessary to change the format; there was little opportunity for conversations other than between colleagues from the same museum who sat together on a row. The workshop questions were delivered from a podium at the front of the room (translated from English into Arabic by Dr Jaafar Jotheri) and, after time for discussion/thought, representatives of each museum gave their answers in turn. Dr Jaafar recorded these on a white board (see below). Not every museum responded to every question.

Dr Jaafar Jotheri records answers from Basrah Museum

The questions posed were deliberately very broad with the intention of revealing the range of audiences currently visiting the museums as well as aspirations for creating greater diversity in the future. Participants were asked to identify their museum’s top three visitor groups – suggestions were offered on a slide. Some museums chose to provide longer lists but for consistency these details have not been included in the following summaries.

The format of the workshop meant that there was time to explore only four questions.

1. Who are your current visitors?

Bar graph showing current types of visitors to Iraqi museums

Current types of visitors to Iraqi museums

School children represent a significant component of museum visitors followed by university students. Few museums identified local tourists as significant, although foreign tourists figured heavily for some institutions. Other museums had distinct visitor profiles because of their location (Green Zone) or collections (Al-Ataba). Only the Iraq Museum and Al-Ataba identified academic researchers as sizable.

2. Who would you like to visit?

Bar graph of types of visitor wanted by managers of Iraqi museums

Types of visitors wanted by managers of Iraqi museums

A clear desire for many museums is to attract a greater number of families, while a current lack of female visitors was also noted. There was also a desire to see more visitors from the surrounding countryside. Some institutions who didn’t regularly receive school and university students saw this as priority. A small number of museums were interested in attracting people on low income and those with special needs.

3. How would you encourage visitors to your museum?

Bar graph of the ways in which managers of Iraqi museums would like to encourage future visitors

Ways in which managers of Iraqi museums would like to encourage future visitors

A variety of very interesting approaches were suggested. Multimedia – both in galleries as well as through social-media – was viewed as an important method of engagement. A significant concern was the lack of transport links to museums, many of which were considered to be poorly located. A greater understanding of the country’s rich cultural heritage, which might be provided through school education, was also viewed as an important method for encouraging visitors.

4. What one thing would you change about your museum?

  • Change the location of the museum
  • Refurbish the museum building/gallery
  • Provide unique exhibitions
  • Provide transportation to the museum

Answers focused on concerns around the museum’s location, infrastructure and transport links. There was also an interest in providing temporary exhibitions.


Future workshops would benefit from a more flexible meeting space to provide greater opportunities for discussion and debate. This meeting was, however, very successful in attracting a large number of Iraq’s museum professionals; there was a clear sense that they valued the opportunity not only to meet collectively but to contribute personally. Participants were also keen to be part of an Iraq museums association, which would provide a means for developing future workshops/gatherings.

The broad questions around museum audiences addressed at this workshop fits with a growing interest within museums globally about identifying visitor types and developing ways to encourage specific segments, e.g. http://intercom.museum/documents/1-4Waltl.pdf, including in the Middle East: https://lra.le.ac.uk/bitstream/2381/37244/1/2015AlAliMPhD.pdf. Finding ways of expanding the number of visits by families to museums is of particular interest and there are a wide range of case studies to draw upon, e.g., https://gulfnews.com/uae/family-fun-at-sharjah-musuems-1.1093567

A future workshop might explore in greater detail what Iraq’s museums are currently doing to support their visitors as well as identify a segment, such as ‘families’, as a focus for sharing ideas around best practice and to develop new approaches. Other areas of interest, such as the use of multimedia, could also be explored in a workshop, not least around identifying sources of funding as well discussing inherent issues of equipment and software maintenance and update.

In order to deliver in these areas, future meetings could also be opportunities for training in areas such as audience evaluation and management; desirables also identified at a workshop held at Basrah Museum in January 2018: http://www.friendsofbasrahmuseum.org.uk/sites/default/files/report_on_fobm_jan_2018_training_programme_evaluation.pdf


The answers in full

Translation provided byRahma Ismail,Project Administrator, Centre on Culture, History and Humanities for Sustainable Development, University of Kurdistan Hewler.

Question 1

Photo of museum managers' answers to questions (in Arabic) - 2Photo of museum managers' answers to questions (in Arabic) - 2Photo of museum managers' answers to questions (in Arabic) - 3

  1. Babylon Museum:
    1. Tourist groups
      1. Local
      2. International (foreign)
    2. School trips
    3. Family trips
    4. Foreign individuals
  2. Mosul Museum:
    1. School trips
    2. Researchers and specialists
    3. Tourist groups
  3. The Green Zone Museum (mobile)
    1. Diplomats
    2. University students
    3. Cultural events
  4. Anbar Museum:
    1. High school students
    2. University students
    3. Post graduate students
    4. Senior citizens
  5. The Iraqi Museum:
    1. Elementary, secondary, high school and university students
    2. Researchers
    3. Senior citizens and ?
    4. Foreign visitors
  6. Samawa Museum:
    1. Elementary school students
    2. University students
    3. High school students
    4. Others
  7. Nasiriya Museum:
    1. Local schools: elementary, high school
    2. Local universities
    3. Local tourist groups
  8. Diyala Museum:
    1. Local elementary schools
    2. Local secondary schools
    3. Local high schools
    4. Local universities
    5. Local researchers
    6. Miscellaneous
  9. Al-Ataba Al-Husseineya (Manuscripts)
    1. Foreign and others:
      1. Universities
      2. Researchers and academics
      3. Religious institutions
    2. Schools
    3. Miscellaneous
  1. Al-Kafeel Museum:
    1. Foreign tourists
    2. Schools
    3. Universities and researchers
    4. Families
    5. Institutions
    6. Diplomats

Question 2

Photo of museum managers' answers to questions (in Arabic) - 4Photo of museum managers' answers to questions (in Arabic) - 7

  1. Babylon Museum:
    1. The poor, countryside residents, slum residents
  2. Mosul Museum:
    1. Families
  3. The Iraqi Museum:
    1. Elementary school students
  4. Anbar Museum:
    1. Families
    2. University faculty members
    3. Politicians
  5. The Green Zone Museum:
    1. Women
  6. Nasiriya Museum:
    1. Persons with special needs
    2. Children under school age
  7. Al-Muthenna:
    1. Families
    2. Countryside residents
  8. Al-Ataba Al-Husseineya Manuscripts
    1. No problem?
  9. Najaf Museum:
    1. Women
    2. The educated class
    3. Businessmen
    4. Countryside residents
  10. Waset Museum:
    1. Families
    2. Countryside residents
    3. Persons with special needs
  11. Diyala Museum:
    1. Families
    2. Politicians
    3. Countryside residents
  12. Basra Museum:
    1. Families
    2. Craftsmen
    3. Countryside residents
  13. Al-Kafeel Museum:
    1. Children
  14. Al-Ataba Al-Husseineya Manuscripts
    1. Visitors
    2. Schools
    3. University students
    4. Religious institutions
    5. Charities
    6. Researchers
    7. Religious scholars
    8. Diplomats
    9. Religious events
    10. Government activities and training courses
    11. Religious visits
  15. Basra Museum:
    1. Students:
      1. Schools
      2. Universities
      3. Colleges
    2. Civil society organizations
    3. Miscellaneous; writers, media, companies, diplomatic missions
    4. The military

Question 3

Photo of museum managers' answers to questions (in Arabic) - 5Photo of museum managers' answers to questions (in Arabic) - 6Photo of museum managers' answers to questions (in Arabic) - 7

  1. Babylon Museum:
    1. Digital folders
    2. Mobile teams
    3. Free entry for the poor
  2. Diwaniya Museum:
    1. Cultural awareness for students
  3. Mosul Museum:
    1. Media
    2. Develop a museum visit schedule at schools
  4. The Iraqi Museum:
    1. Non-museum activities; political events
    2. Media coverage important heritage pieces
    3. Museum visits for children
    4. Free entry on special days/ holidays
    5. Cultural conferences
    6. Publicity promotion at borders and airports
  5. Anbar Museum:
    1. Library inside the museum
    2. Collaborations with government institutions
    3. Researching audience needs/ interests
    4. Folders
  6. The Green Zone:
    1. Rehabilitating exhibition location
    2. Publicity prior to visits
  7. Wasit Museum:
    1. Selecting appropriate location for the museum
    2. Use of social media
    3. Changing the exhibited pieces
    4. 3d stereoscopic images/ sculptures
    5. Folders
    6. Presenting results of ? in the museum
    7. Non-museum activities
  8. Diyala Museum:
    1. Screens
    2. Lectures and workshops on paintings and antiques
    3. Games for children
    4. Library
    5. Folders/ filing
    6. Presenting results of?
  9. Basra Museum:
    1. Exhibitions presenting the current situation
    2. Subjective workshops for materials not present in the museum
    3. Media promotion
    4. Presentation technology
  10. Nasiriya Museum:
    1. Virtual visits
    2. Developing divisions that represent the society
  11. Samawa Museum:
    1. Folders/filing
    2. Exhibitions for paintings not owned by the museum
    3. Book signings
    4. Countryside visits (mobile museum)
  12. Al-Ataba Al-Husseineya Manuscripts
    1. TV channels & satellites
    2. Rehabilitation of manuscripts division in the university
    3. Awareness/education through trainings and workshops
  13. Najaf Museum:
    1. Find out audience (tribes) interests
    2. Exhibit paintings representing cultural heritage in the museum
    3. Renewing exhibit structures periodically
    4. Use of media
    5. General awareness raising

Question 4

Photo of museum managers' answers to questions (in Arabic) - 8

  1. Babylon Museum:
    1. Move the museum to the presidential palace
  2. Diwaniya Museum:
    1. New building for the museum
  3. The Iraqi Museum:
    1. Professional management
  4. Anbar Museum:
    1. Exhibit original pieces
  5. The Green Zone Museum:
    1. Sculptures for well-known personalities
  6. Nasiriya Museum:
    1. Expanding the museum
  7. Samawa Museum:
    1. A building for heritage maintenance
  8. Al-Ataba Al-Husseineya Manuscripts:
    1. Academic institution
  9. Najaf Museum:
    1. Transpiration facilities
  10. Al-Ataba Al-Husseineya Manuscripts:
    1. New halls?
  11. Wasit Museum:
    1. Move the museum outside the university
  12. Basra Museum:
    1. Transportation facilities
  13. Diyala:
    1. Install vitrines
  14. Mosul Museum:
    1. Rehabilitate the museum