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The Nahrein Network


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


Archive for the 'Visiting Scholarships' Category

Iraq Museum Marketing

By Zainab, on 23 May 2024

We talk to Nawar Ihsan, Antiquities Restorer at The Iraq Museum. Nawar held a Nahrein – BISI Visiting Scholarship at The British Museum with Dr Paul Collins.

Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Nawar Ihsan. I come from a family interested in heritage and art. My grandfather was a sculptor and had turned his house into a museum. I have been working in the field of Iraqi heritage for more than twelve years. I worked as director of the Iraqi Fashion Museum. I also designed historical and heritage costumes and had artistic works such as paintings from Iraqi heritage. I moved to work in the Iraqi Museum, where I was the artistic director for the museum halls, and then my final stop was the restoration and maintenance of antiquities. My learning was at the hands of Italian experts, and I gained experience through my work practice.

I also have many projects in the field, where I carried out technical maintenance for the most important monuments displayed in the Iraq Museum, such as winged bulls, Assyrian murals, the wall of the Temple of Uruk, Sumerian urns, and many others. Also, on a more comprehensive level, I carried out artistic maintenance. The entire museum collection is in the Basra Cultural Museum, which contains complementary parts, as well as the Maysan Museum, and work is underway on the Mosul Museum collection. I also worked as a project coordinator between the SBAH and heritage organisations such as the Safina Projects. I have held several workshops and training courses to develop the skills of museum workers, some of which were in cooperation with the Italian Embassy at the Italian Center in Baghdad in addition to the Basra Cultural Museum as the opening of the maintenance laboratory, and others in the ancient city of Babylon with the establishment of a workshop near the Lion of Babylon.

Nawar Ihsan at The British Museum

Tell us more about your project.

My project on museums in general and the Iraqi Museum in particular is titled: Iraq Museum Marketing through the Application of Sustainable Development Goals. My research aims to develop the reality of museums in Iraq in proportion to the significance of the civilisation they contain and to activate their social and educational role to achieve sustainability in heritage, learning, and cultural tourism. The research methodology was a comparison between the Iraqi Museum and museums in the United Kingdom to identify strengths and weaknesses. The research was hosted by Dr. Paul Collins, Keeper of the Middle East, in the British Museum. The research involved identifying the methods and policies followed by museums, such as the methods of display, lighting, designs, visitor movement, services provided by the museum, and its educational and social role. During my stay in the UK, I visited more than 26 museums in London and other cities, and also met with a number of department directors at the British Museum. This enabled me to form a broad and comprehensive impression of museum management in the UK.

How was your Visiting Scholarship experience in the UK?

The Nahrein Network and the British Institute for the Study of Iraq provided me with wonderful experiences, allowing me to benefit from the expertise of leading institutions. As the subject of the research revolves around museums, and the United Kingdom contains a large number of diverse museums, the opportunity to host me at the British Museum was an honour for me, as it is the museum that attracts most visitors. It is also a great opportunity to get to know experts and innovators and build knowledge in this field of work. It is certain that getting to know the cities and lifestyles in the United Kingdom had a beautiful impact on civilizational and cultural diversity.

Nawar Ihsan at UCL

What was the highlight of your trip?

I was able to achieve a lot within the short and quick visiting scholarship in London, including my lecture titled “Iraqi Heritage Between Recovery and Preservation” at UCL in collaboration with the Iraqi Embassy, attended by the Cultural Attaché and important figures from the Iraqi community in the UK. My presentation discussed the state of heritage in Iraq, its divisions, causes of loss, and how to protect it, while highlighting the role of the Iraqi Museum in preserving antiquities.

In addition, I had the great opportunity to attend a conference on social attraction in the city of Bristol, as its topic is considered an important part of the research that I am conducting. Another highlight was my trip to Oxford, hosted by Dr. Paul Collins, to see the Ashmolean Museum, which is considered the world’s first university museum and was distinguished by modern display methods and a great collection in the Mesopotamian Civilization section. I also visited Cambridge and experienced the Fitzwilliam Museum.

How will your scholarship help you with your research?

Travelling enables us to acquire and experience new cultures, let alone if it is specifically for conducting research in a country that is known for sustaining its culture and history. Through this scholarship, I was able to conduct field visits to several museums in London and other cities in the UK, which definitely helped me expand my knowledge and skills in a wide area of museum management. Using historical buildings in museums while intertwining modern interior styles was fascinating, and I hope to incorporate these contemporary methods into my research and my work back in Iraq.

Through participant observation at different museums, I learned a lot about the methods of dealing with visitors, and I understood the importance of museum layout and visitor movement within galleries. This is an extremely important matter for increasing visitor engagement and experience.

Christian Cultural Heritage in Mosul

By Zainab, on 31 October 2023

We talk to Dr Abdulkareem Yaseen Ahmed, Lecturer in Linguistics at Diyala University. Dr Abdulkareem held a Nahrein – BISI Visiting Scholarship at University of Leicester. Dr Abdulkareem’s project is titled Christian Cultural Heritage in Mosul and is under the supervision of Dr Selena Wisnom.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

An image of Dr Abdulkareem Yaseen with Professor Eleanor Robson at UCL

Dr Abdulkareem Yaseen with Professor Eleanor Robson at UCL

My name is Abdulkareem Yaseen, a lecturer at University of Diyala. My academic journey took me to the United Kingdom, where I achieved an MA from the University of York and subsequently completed my PhD at Newcastle University in 2018. Recently, I have successfully concluded a Nahrein Network/BISI-funded project in my role as a co-investigator, centered on the intricate process of identity reconstruction within the war-torn region of Karma, situated in Anbar, to the west of Iraq. This project nicely aligned with my research background, as I have previously engaged with the culturally rich community of Mosul.

What is your project about?

Well, my current project has brought me to the University of Leicester, where I’ve embarked on a mission dedicated to the preservation of the intangible cultural heritage of Mosul’s Christian community. This project is kindly supported by the Nahrein Network, based at University College London, as well as The British Institute for the Study of Iraq. Within the framework of this project, I have delved deeply into the intangible cultural heritage of Mosul’s Christian community and the considerable challenges it confronts. My research findings underscore the pivotal role played by oral traditions and dialects within the cultural heritage of this community. Moreover, I’ve illuminated how conflicts and socio-political turmoil have led to the decline of certain aspects of this intangible cultural heritage. Nevertheless, this project offers a ray of hope by outlining a comprehensive approach aimed at safeguarding and promoting the intangible cultural heritage of Mosul’s Christian community.

How was your stay in the UK?

In fact, my 8-week stay in Leicester has opened doors to new research possibilities and strengthened my commitment to safeguarding the cultural heritage of Mosul’s Christian community and beyond. Everyone at the Nahrein Network as well as the host institution (University of Leicester) has played a pivotal role in ensuring my stay was productive and enjoyable. I can’t thank them enough for what they did for me.

Have you had promising conversations or collaborations with colleagues?

During my stay in Leicester, the scholarship has undeniably broadened my horizons in multiple dimensions. Firstly, it has exposed me to a diverse community of researchers with a wide array of research interests. Interacting with these scholars has provided me with fresh perspectives and invaluable insights into various aspects of heritage preservation and cultural studies. These interactions have not only expanded my academic horizons but have also enriched my personal growth. Moreover, the Department of Archaeology has been a hub of expertise in heritage-related fields. Working closely with specialists from different research backgrounds related to heritage has given me an up-close look at their methodologies and approaches to preserving both tangible and intangible cultural assets. This exposure has deepened my understanding of the multifaceted challenges and opportunities involved in safeguarding cultural heritage. The vibrant academic environment at the University of Leicester has allowed me to engage in numerous meetings and gatherings where ideas and experiences were freely exchanged. So, I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to engage with such fantastic individuals.

How do you plan to further your research once you’re back in Iraq?

Looking ahead, my ambitions extend beyond the boundaries of my initial project. I intend to expand the scope of my research to encompass a broader array of communities of interest. In particular, I envision a new chapter in this project that will delve into the rich history and heritage of the Jewish communities in northern Iraq. By doing so, I aim to create a more comprehensive and inclusive portrayal of Iraq’s cultural heritage landscape, shedding light on the multifaceted tapestry of traditions, narratives, and legacies that have shaped this region over centuries. This will not only deepen our understanding of Mosul’s Christian community but also contribute to a more holistic appreciation of the diverse cultural heritage that defines Iraq.

An image of Dr Abdulkareem at UCL’s Japanese Garden Pavilion

Dr Abdulkareem at UCL’s Japanese Garden Pavilion

How will your scholarship help you with your research?

Upon my return, I am wholeheartedly committed to forging enduring collaborations with the Christian community of Mosul, building upon the invaluable connections I’ve cultivated with the local residents while conducting my project. These relationships have not only enriched my understanding of their cultural heritage but have also demonstrated the genuine commitment of the community to preserving its traditions.

Reviving the Local Identity of the City of Basrah

By Zainab, on 25 September 2023

We talk to Dr Hamed H. Samir, Head of Architecture Department, Collage of Engineering, University of Basrah. Dr Hamed held a Nahrein – BISI Visiting Scholarship at University of Loughborough. Dr Hamed’s project is titled Reviving the Local Identity of the City of Basrah and is under the supervision of Dr Sura al-Maiyah.

Tell us about more about your project.

Dr Hamed with "Auto-Icon" of philosopher and reformer, Jeremy Bentham at UCL

Dr Hamed with “Auto-Icon” of philosopher and reformer, Jeremy Bentham at UCL

Built heritage conservation is essential in post-war areas. In recent years, Iraqi traditional architecture has been deeply affected by several wars, challenging the cultural memory of local people.

My research considers Basra as a pilot case study. Basra is classified as a city rich in cultural heritage. In particular, the canals are a unique feature of the city. Within Iraq, Basra holds the nickname of “Venice of the East”, surrounded by its distinctive architectural identity. Basra today faces urban decay and is losing its architectural heritage and identity in a severe way.

A significant problem is the continuous altering of traditional architecture. The value of Basra’s built environment and its architectural heritage is absent from the local residents. This has contributed to losing countless historical buildings and the unique Basra charm.

The aim of my research is to explore how the legacy of Basra’s past can be transmitted to future generations. My project focuses on digitally documenting the tangible and intangible heritage of Basra. I am hoping to create a digital library to revive the collective memory of residents and to raise awareness regarding the value of Basra’s heritage.

How was your stay in the UK? Did you have promising conversations with colleagues?

It was an amazing experience to be in the UK. I got the chance to meet and work with many colleagues working in similar projects from across the world. In addition, I had the opportunity to visit labs and got experience on the newest cutting-edge tools for heritage documentation.

The colleagues are friendly and very helpful, they were always available to listen and discuss my project and constantly giving feedback. I believe that all this will no doubt lead to developing a solid project and reducing the challenges and barriers.

How will your scholarship help you with your research?

As a researcher, the scholarship in the UK has given me the opportunity to learn the newest technology and tools, such as laser scanning and photogrammetry. In addition, this scholarship has improved my skills regarding the new heritage documenting tools and how to use it. This is very necessary to my project. Moreover, in order to set a plan to create the digital library for Basra city heritage, the interaction with the experts in this field is much required, and this was achieved during my stay in the host university as well as other institutions in UK.

Dr Hamed at UCL’s Japanese Garden Pavilion

How do you plan to further your research once you are back in Iraq?

The future plan for me after finishing my scholarship and returning to Iraq will focus on creating a digital library for the heritage of Basra city. I believe this library will enhance the knowledge of young architects. In addition, I hope this will raise the awareness of the local people and revive the collective memory of Basra’s heritage and traditional architecture particularly the younger generations.

You can watch Dr Hamed’s seminar titled, Safeguarding the diversity of cultural heritage in Basrah on our YouTube page.

Ancient Civilisations Archaeology

By Zainab, on 22 May 2023

We talk to Mabast A. Muhammad Amin, lecturer at the History department at the University of Garmian, Iraq. Mabast held a Nahrein – BISI Visiting Scholarship at University of Liverpool. Mabast’s project is titled Ancient Civilisations Archaeology and is under the supervision of Professor Douglas Baird and Dr Eleni Asouti.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background.

My name is Mabast Ali Muhammad Amin. I have an M.A. in archaeology at the University of Leicester. I am a full-time lecturer at the History department, University of Garmian in Iraq.

What is your project about?

During my stay in the UK, I worked on a research project entitled: Preserving prehistoric sites in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The project surveyed the range of environmental and human actions that have impacted a series of case study early prehistoric sites in Iraqi Kurdistan. The aim is to understand the nature of those impacts and the types of degradation they cause in order to develop a hierarchical framework assessing degrees of damage. This assessment resulted in a series of mitigation scenarios for these specific case studies and early prehistoric sites in Iraqi Kurdistan in general, focusing on some of the most damaging factors.

In terms of those factors relating to human agency, or where the human agency can influence environmental factors, the project aimed to identify the role of local communities. It will explore local community awareness of these early prehistoric sites and the extent to which types of awareness raising may have positive impacts on site preservation.

What was the main benefit of your scholarship?

My scholarship was helpful in updating my ideas and perspectives, where I learned about new methods and approaches to my work. I was also able to produce important research about the challenges in the protection and promotion of heritage sites in the region. My research assesses environmental and human threats to the preservation of early prehistoric sites (Palaeolithic and Neolithic) in Iraqi Kurdistan. I developed mechanisms that will aid their preservation, such as dialogue with local communities. I also engaged and collaborated with several heritage organizations and professionals in the UK.

Professor Eleanor Robson and Mabast Amin at UCL

What are your plans for your project once you’re back in Iraq?

Since I returned to the Kurdistan region, I presented two seminars to academics and professionals at the University of Garmian and Garmian Museum.

I have also organised a group of archaeologists and museum professionals, and we are planning to establish a non-governmental organisation in Garmian. We aim to bring awareness and educate local community about the value of archaeological heritage sites, through organising seminars, workshops and arranging festivals and heritage activities in schools, universities and public places.

I have also become a member of an archaeological team from the University of Liverpool, directed by Professor Douglas Baird and Professor Asouti to work in a Palaeolithic cave site. Another great example of how the Visiting Scholarship has created relationships and opportunities for me.

Contemporary Approaches to Museum Design

By Zainab, on 22 May 2023

We talk to Shazad Jaseem Tofiq, Architect at the Sulaimani Directorate of Antiquities. Shazad held a Nahrein – BISI Visiting Scholarship at The British Museum. Shazad’s project is titled Contemporary Approaches to Museum Design and is under the supervision of Dr Paul Collins.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background.

My name is Shazad Jaseem Tofiq and I’m an architect at the Sulaimani Antiquities Directorate. I’ve been working there since December 2007. My work primarily involves the preservation of historic houses and gallery design development at the Sulaimani Museum.

Over the years, I’ve been involved in several preservation projects where I’ve utilized my skills and expertise to conserve historic buildings. It’s always a challenging task because each building has its unique set of problems. However, it’s also rewarding when we manage to restore a building to its former glory.

At the Sulaimani Museum, I’ve also been involved in designing galleries and exhibits. As an architect, I’m able to utilize my knowledge of spatial design to create visually appealing and functional spaces.

Shazad Tofiq and Dr Paul Collins at The British Museum

Tell us more about your project and the main benefits of the Visiting Scholarship?

My project’s main focus was to observe and analyze the spatial design and configuration of the collections and exhibits at different UK museums. I received a two-month Nahrein Network – BISI Scholarship at the British Museum, which provided me with an opportunity to learn from their well-developed museum exhibits and design. Through this scholarship, I gained valuable insights into the spatial design components, collection configuration, and architectural elements of exhibits. I had the opportunity to visit over 22 museums across the UK.

I also undertook several semi-structured interviews with related professionals to explore the design process approach and rationale of those exhibits as well as the museum. It was an enriching experience that has allowed me to bring back new ideas and knowledge to my work at the Sulaimani Antiquities Directorate.

What are your plans for your project once you’re back in Iraq?

After completing my scholarship at the British Museum, I am now planning to take my learnings and apply them to my work at the Sulaimani Antiquities Directory. I believe that the knowledge and insights I gained during my time in the UK can be useful in improving our museum exhibits and preservation projects.

I plan to share my learnings by writing a research paper that summarizes my findings and observations. This paper will detail my analysis of the spatial design components and configuration of the collection and architectural elements of the exhibit at the British Museum. It will also provide insight into the design process approach and rationale of those exhibits.

Moreover, I am also planning to organize two workshops for related museum professionals, including architects, archaeologists, interior designers, educators, and other relevant experts. These workshops will provide a platform for us to discuss and exchange ideas on how to apply my learnings to our respective fields. By doing so, we can collaborate and contribute to the improvement of museum exhibits and preservation projects in our region.

Iraqi Heritage under the British Mandate

By Zainab, on 7 March 2023

We talk to Dr Sadiq Khalil Abid PhD in Architecture (University of Sheffield) and former Consultant in the Prime Minister’s office. Dr Sadiq is a returning scholar who came to finish the second phase of his scholarship in February 2023. He held a Nahrein – BISI Visiting Scholarship at The National Archive titled Iraqi Heritage under the British Mandate under the supervision of Dr Juliette Desplat.

What were the main benefits of your scholarship?

My goal is to build effective advocacy through case studies of endangered Iraqi Heritage. During my stay in the UK, I was able to discuss with various professionals from different backgrounds how to better raise awareness about Iraqi Heritage. The Nahrein Network has been a great support not only to me, but to many Iraqi scholars that are collectively working towards the sustainable development of Iraqi history and heritage.

Sadiq Khalil

Dr Sadiq Khalil with Jeremy Bentham, philosopher and reformer whose educational ideas influenced the founding and development of UCL

What was the main highlight of your scholarship?

My main research is focusing on the relationship between politics and cultural heritage with particular reference to Baghdad and Najaf. I’m keen on dealing with some specific case studies such as Al-Tahrir Square, the Royal Cemetery, and al-Rashid street in Baghdad, in addition to the Najaf old town. It can be stated that Iraq has a number of sites, many are in danger of permanent deterioration due to muddled conservation practices. This research will examine the current state of Iraqi conservation practices, with a particular focus on the extent to which they have affected the existing historical fabric. My scholarship with The National Archives has allowed me to collect a vast amount of useful primary sources and maps from the archives and I expect to achieve some outcomes soon.

What will you do to continue your research in Iraq?

After returning to Iraq, I’m planing to continue searching and delivering articles with collaboration with Nahrein Network. Moreover, I’m planning to set out some online lectures and workshops under Nahrein Network umbrella focusing on the importance of the Network scholarships and projects tailored to Iraqi researchers, and key players dealing with cultural challenges. These webinars can help researchers to understand the impact of the Network and share our knowledge and experiences with others. Raising researchers and stakeholders awareness and understanding how to effectively deal with cultural heritage is important to protect Iraqi heritage on the ground.

Listen to Dr Sadiq talk about his experience in this short video

Sadiq Khalil

Sadiq Khalil at The National Archives in London

Developing e-collections for University of Mosul Central Library

By Zainab, on 5 December 2022

We talk to Dr Mohammed Jasim Aal-Hajiahmed, from Central Library – University of Mosul. Returning scholar who came to finish the second phase of his scholarship in October 2022. He held a Nahrein – BISI Visiting Scholarship at The British Library.

What were the main things you learnt from your Visiting Scholarship?

Throughout the two phases of my scholarship, I gained knowledge in many aspects of my field, specifically:

  • I learned about setting up a digitization unit in the library and the process of restoring the physical and electronic library collections. I also acquired the know-how for digitizing the manuscripts and fragile materials.
  • I was introduced to new electronic library systems that can be applied during cataloguing, borrowing, interlibrary loan, etc.
  • I understood the importance of providing training courses for library staff in order to continuously develop skills.
  • I recognized the value of networking with other librarians and exchange of knowledge.

How has the scholarship helped you in your work in your home country?

This scholarship helped me in my work a lot because I was able to network with many friends at various great UK institutions such as the British Library, Oxford University, Cambridge University, UCL Library, etc. This networking will help us resolve any issues we could face during the process of restoring Mosul Library Collections as we are starting this process from scratch.

What was the main highlight of your scholarship?

The main highlight of this scholarship was discussing the possibility of forming a consultancy board that could meet twice a year to follow up the restoration of Mosul University Library Collections. This board consists of directors and librarians from different UK libraries that can provide consultancy and solutions for the issues that may be raised during the process of rebuilding Mosul Library Collections. Listen to Dr Mohammed talk about his future plans in this short video

What will you do to continue your research in Iraq?

I have kept in touch with my contacts in UK to make sure that the process of restoring the library collections goes smoothly and to get the required feedback if needed. Moreover, I look forward to applying what I have learned from my scholarship to make Mosul University Library one of the best academic institutions that can provide the best services for its users.

BP Archive: A Source for the Study of the Contemporary Economic, Social and Cultural History of Kirkuk

By Zainab, on 5 December 2022

We talk to Dr Dilshad Oumar Abdul Aziz, Head of the History Department at the University of Kirkuk. Throughout September and October 2022, he held a Nahrein – BISI Visiting Scholarship  at the BP Archive and History Department, University of Warwick. We talk to him about his experience as a Visiting Scholar here in the UK.

What were the main benefits of your scholarship?

During my stay at the BP Archive at the University of Warwick, we scanned and documented files previously reserved through the archive’s electronic database of 6000 – 7000 documents. These files included historical papers of Iraq’s economic, social and cultural history.

I also designed and wrote A Guideline for Researchers & Students to Contact the BP Archive, in three languages: English, Arabic and Kurdish. The purpose of this guideline is to show the significance of the BP Archive and the important documents it contains for the economic and social history of the countries of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Gulf. The guideline also familiarizes researchers with the history of these countries and how to benefit and use the BP Archive documents in their research projects.

“My aim is to familiarize local researchers and postgraduate students in the field of modern and contemporary history in Iraqi universities about the importance of the BP Archive”

What was the main highlight of your scholarship?

I organized a webinar via Zoom on September 28, attended by more than 150 researchers and postgraduate students from Iraqi universities. During the workshop, the guideline was launched, and the attendees were introduced to how to use the archive’s electronic database. You watch the recording of the workshop on the Nahrein Network’s YouTube channel.

My project has also captured the interest of several news outlets in the region. I conducted a 15-minute television interview with the Kurdsat News TV. We talked about the importance of my project, outputs, and support of Nahrein Network and BISI. I also talked about experiences gained from the visit, and how to transfer them to the academic reality at the University Kirkuk and other universities in Iraq. You can see the interview on Facebook (in Kurdish).

What will you do to continue your research in Iraq?

Since returning from the UK, I have been writing an academic research paper titled, “The Iraq Petroleum Company Archive: a source for study the economic, social, and cultural history of Kirkuk.” I am currently in the final stages of my research and I hope to publish the paper in both Arabic and English. Another output of our project is to prepare an index for all the scanned documents relating to Kirkuk’s economic, social and cultural history in the BP archive.

I aim to disseminate the knowledge gained from my scholarship with the BP Archive at the University of Warwick after returning by establishing of a series of workshops tailored to researchers, professors, graduate students and employees of research centers and central libraries, especially at the University of Kirkuk and the Central Library in Kirkuk, raising awareness of the documents available in the archive and urging the community to communicate and to benefit from the material available in their future studies and research.

Cultural Heritage in Najaf and London: Visiting Scholarship Report

By Nahrein Network, on 13 October 2020

Dr. Ali Naji Attiyah, University of Kufa, Iraq

I was hosted by Dr. Edward Denison from UCL’s Bartlett School of Architecture, from 10 February to 23 April 2020, on a BISI-Nahrein Network Visiting Scholarship. My main goal was to write an article on the importance of linking both types of heritage, tangible and intangible, in increasing people’s awareness of the role of heritage in their lives.

Seminar at UCL

Eleanor Robson, Sadiq Khalil and Ali Naji at UCL IAS on 13 February 2020

Eleanor Robson, Sadiq Khalil and Ali Naji at UCL IAS on 13 February 2020

The Embassy of Iraq and Nahrein Network-University College London organized a symposium on the sustainable development of cultural heritage and archaeology on 13 February 2020, chaired by Professor Eleanor Robson. First, Dr. Sadiq Khalil presented a paper on heritage management in Iraq. Then I gave a paper on the role of cultural heritage in Najaf.

The attendees were professors with different disciplines such as history, archeology, architecture, and environment, in addition to other attendees who were interested in Iraq’s heritage.

The seminar was in the first week of the scholarship and it was a good opportunity to meet other specialists in heritage with different disciplines. Moreover, in the discussion after the seminar, the attendees responded very positively to my paper, finding that relating both types of heritage, tangible and intangible, is an attractive strategy to get a more holistic view of the importance of heritage.

Ph.D. Research Projects 2020 Conference at Bartlett School of Architecture

Bartlett Faculty's exhibition space UCL

The exhibition space of the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

My host institute was the Bartlett School of Architecture at UCL and the host professor was Dr. Edward Denison, who has an interest in heritage. On 18 February 2020, the Bartlett ran an interdisciplinary conference and exhibition, featuring the work of students from across the faculty who are developing or concluding their doctoral research.

The conference and the exhibition aim to encourage discussions between students, staff, invited guests and critics, and the public. I attended the conference and exhibition to listen to the research ideas in architecture and those trends related to cultural heritage.

One presentation was particularly relevant to my work, by Amr El-Husseiny, whose PhD title is: “The Boundaries of Heritage: A Socio-Political Approach to Heritage Spaces in the Egyptian Context”.

Heritage Workshop at Barcelona

The participants of the conference on heritage for peace, Barcelona, 5 March 2020

The participants of the conference on heritage for peace, Barcelona, 5 March 2020

A workshop was organized by Heritage for Peace, together with the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH) and Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), 4–5 March 2020. The workshop was on the empowerment of civil society for the protection of cultural heritage in conflict areas and was held in Barcelona, Spain.

The event was attended by many representatives of civil society NGOs from Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Iraq, as well as members of State Boards of Antiquities, who had the opportunity to present their work and discuss their needs, as well as experts from the University of Oxford, Blue Shield, Syrian Heritage Archive Project, University College London, and others. I gave a presentation titled “Holistic View of Cultural Heritage in Historic Centre of Najaf City”, in which I tried to describe the role of local communities represented by NGOs in the protection of cultural heritage.

The event concluded with the launch of the Arab Network of Civil Society to Safeguard Cultural Heritage, ANSCH. I am delighted to be one of the founders of this network, which has the following objectives:

  • To create a network of civil society organizations.
  • To identify and define the heritage protection projects needed in Arab countries.
  • To enhance the visibility of civil society organizations and their work.
  • To empower local communities’ participation in the management of cultural heritage.
  • To foster inclusive social development.
  • To foster inclusive economic development.
  • To promote the protection of the environment.

The website https://ansch.heritageforpeace.org/ will be a platform to exchange ideas between peers from countries that have a similar unsettled situation.

Meeting with ICOMOS-UK

On 12 March 2020 I held a Skype meeting with Clara Arokiasamy, the Chair of the ICOMOS-UK’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee, which she founded in 2012. The main points discussed were establishing ICOMOS-Iraq and the relationship between tangible and intangible heritage.

Webinar at the University of Oxford

On 17 March 2020 I gave a webinar for the Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa (EAMENA) project, based at the Universities of Oxford, Leicester, and Durham. I described the role of intangible cultural heritage in the revival of tangible heritage, using historic City of Najaf as a case study. The discussion with experts following the webinar was very fruitful.

Research visits

Dr Ali Naji in Letchworth Garden City, March 2020

Dr Ali Naji in Letchworth Garden City, March 2020

On 21 March 2020, I visited Letchworth, the world’s first Garden City, with Yasmin Shariff, the Director of Dennis Sharp Architects. Letchworth was created as a solution to the squalor and poverty of urban life in Britain in the late 19th century. The garden city movement is a method of urban planning in which self-contained communities are surrounded by “green belts”, containing proportionate areas of residences, industry, and agriculture. It shows how the life of local communities can be modernized while keeping their cultures and traditional way of life.

To increase my knowledge of tangible heritage and how it can be used to improve the lives of people, I visited three cities: London, Cambridge, and Liverpool. Apart from London’s four world heritage sites, there are many places inside Zone 1 that maintain their cultural characteristics such as buildings facades and streets. The same thing can be seen in Cambridge, where the buildings and streets are the same for hundreds of years, while six areas in the historic centre and docklands of the maritime mercantile city of Liverpool bear witness to the development of one of the world’s major trading centres in the 18th and 19th centuries.

I learned that in order to keep the cultural heritage in any city, which is still full of human activities, it is necessary to give priority to infrastructure. For example, London, a city of about 18 million people, needs an effective public transport system for daily travel to take pressure off car use. The University of Cambridge is a good example of the use of heritage buildings in new functions, encouraging people and authorities to be aware of the conservation of those monuments. The world heritage site in Liverpool represented by the docks was used for tourism and it was the identity of the city at the same time. Recently, its heritage value was threatened because of the new development project (Liverpool Waters) in the harbour. This is a good example of the sensitivity of the over-commercial use of heritage sites.

While in London I also visited the British Museum, the Science Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Sir John Soane’s Museum, as well as the History Museum of Catalonia when in Barcelona. While all very different in their aims, they share the idea of inter-generational communication of heritage.

Chapter in Handbook of Sustainable Heritage

As an outcome of this Visiting Scholarship, with UCL archaeologist Dr. Caroline Sandes I will co-author a chapter of the new Handbook on Sustainable Heritage, to be published by Routledge and CRC Press. Titled “Najaf, Iraq: developing a sustainable approach to threatened heritage”, it will examine the problem of threatened heritage in Najaf and how a more holistic approach, particularly involving the city’s intangible cultural heritage, will help to work towards a more sustainable conservation program that will encourage and involve local inhabitants to protect Najaf’s important heritage.

Dr Ali Naji in Liverpool, March 2020

Dr Ali Naji in Liverpool, March 2020

Teaching medieval history in Baghdad and Sheffield

By Nahrein Network, 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.