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Passion for research, commitment to education: the archaeology programme at UCL Qatar

By Kerry Milton, on 4 March 2015

Dr Jose C. Carvajal Lopez, Lecturer in Islamic Archaeology at UCL Qatar, reflects upon the establishment of the MA Archaeology of the Arab and Islamic World degree programme, and aspirations for growth.

Jose C. Carvajal Lopez, UCL Qatar

One of the privileges of teaching at UCL Qatar is to find highly motivated students who need only minimal guidance to set up and accomplish interesting and valuable research projects. The first generation of our students on the MA Archaeology of the Arab and Islamic World degree programme have addressed such varied issues as the ethnography of nomadic campsites in the Qatari desert, the technological transformations of Serbian pottery after the Ottoman conquest, the development of characteristic types of wares of the late Islamic period in the Gulf, the cultural connections of a piece of Fatimid woodwork conserved in Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art, and the creation of a recovery plan for the heritage of the war-ravaged town of Aleppo, Syria.

Each one of these topics reflects the passion and commitment of our students, who have in many cases travelled long distances and adapted to a different culture in order to have the chance to give everything in their projects.

The first generation of our students hailed from countries as diverse as Lebanon, Serbia, Qatar, Syria and the UK. The second generation, already preparing their dissertation, have added new countries to that list: Egypt, Italy, USA, Libya, Czech Republic, Mexico, Yemen and Jordan. And the third generation, just starting, includes students from such distant places as Indonesia, Spain and Canada, only mentioning those countries that have not appeared previously in this list.

When looking at students across the whole department, enrolled on one of our five different programmes (MA Museum and Gallery Practice, MSc Conservation Studies, MA Library and Information Studies and Diploma in Academic Research and Methods), we teach more than eighty individuals from nearly 40 countries. The environment is exciting and enriching, as cultural exchange between us, the UCL Qatar academic staff, and these highly motivated students forms part of our daily experience.

The first generation of our archaeology students has set a very high standard, but this is in fact something that makes us proud and eager to follow up. Each single dissertation was a piece of innovative research that brings something new into the field of archaeology and, above all, conveys to the reader that the author loved and cherished the topic on which they wrote. This is a brilliant start, but it is nowhere close to where we want to go.

The archaeologists lecturing and researching at UCL Qatar vibrate with the passion lived in this environment, and we do worry about providing our students with the opportunities that they search and have worked so hard to find. Our flagship projects in Qatar, Sudan and Egypt have provided numerous chances of internships for some of them, and our involvement in projects with institutions in Spain, Palestine, Iraq, Greece, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, Netherlands, Albania, Kuwait, Turkey, Uzbekistan and the UK have been exploited in field placements, exchanges and internships. The students demand and deserve more still: some of them look for projects and placements in Central Asia and India, and this is something that of course we take very seriously, as we are proud to be a Global University.

This is ambitious, but it is not without a realistic aim: to provide our students with the chance to develop their own potential and to satisfy the passion that has taken them away from their more or less distant homes to a place where education and research are heads and tails of the same coin.

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