Higher Education and Development for Archaeology and Environmental Health Research
SUNY at Stony Brook

Final Report: Stony Brook USAID Iraq-HEAD Summer Workshop in Near Eastern Archaeology and Cuneiform Studies, Amman, June 19-August 26, 2004

By Dr. Elizabeth Stone

This workshop was intended as a vehicle to allow Iraqi specialists in archaeology and cuneiform studies to catch up with developments in their fields that have taken place over the past two decades when they were cut off from the world beyond Iraq. For full course descriptions, see section 2.3 of the 2003 Work Plan.

Fifty-five Iraqi faculty, graduate students and members of the Department of Antiquities joined eight American and European faculty for this workshop. The majority of the Iraqi participants came from Mosul and Baghdad Universities, but we also included small contingents from Iraq Museum and the new archaeology program at Qadasiyah University.

Faculty were drawn from the Universities of Oklahoma, Copenhagen, Yale, Berkeley, Boston University and Stony Brook and the Institute of Archaeology at London University.

The workshop met for 12 hours per week of lectures in the mornings, 6 hours of small group afternoon workshops, plus weekly field trips and lectures by Iraqi and Jordanian scholars. It was equivalent to one semester of full time University study.

At the end of the program, the participants were given a series of CDs with Arabic outlines of all of the lectures, copies of our PowerPoint presentations, and copies of relevant recent articles. Arabic translations of the PowerPoints will be provided at a later date.

We had several goals in mind as we conceived this workshop. These will be discussed individually below, together with an assessment of our success in this venture.

Goal 1: Provide information on new archaeological discoveries outside Iraq, and newly published material from research conducted within Iraq.

This goal was accomplished through the morning lectures. Our Iraqi colleagues were most interested in recently published data from Iraq, but over time developed a greater interest in discoveries from the areas close to Iraq, especially in Turkey and Syria.

Goal 2: To develop electronic skills (computing, digital photography, digital surveying).

†We were somewhat shocked at just how undeveloped these skills were at the outset. We estimate that three quarters of the participants had never used computers before their arrival in Amman, so we had to begin with the basics of how to use the mouse, how to save documents, etc. Clearly in the time available we were not able to take this group of neophytes and make them highly computer literate, but by the end of the program, all had email addresses and were using this vehicle to communicate with family back in Iraq, all knew how to use the internet and all had a basic understanding of the possibilities of the computer age. With the communications and computers that we are making available to them back in Iraq, we feel confident that their skills will grow.

Goal 3: To connect our Iraqi colleagues with the outside world.

This goal was accomplished on a number of levels. As indicated above they all now have email addresses, and we have put many of them in email contact with colleagues with similar research interests around the world. They also all made copious use of the excellent library at the American Center for Oriental Studies (ACOR) in Amman, the library at the University of Jordan and the library at Yarmuk University. We also introduced them to many internet research resources. Several of the participants were specialists in numismatics, and fortunately one of the fellows at ACOR was also a numismatist, so they were able to arrange seminars and tours of special coin collections together. An addition bonus was that the chairs of the Mosul and Baghdad departments also took the opportunity to develop connections between their programs and those offered in Jordan, connections which should provide long term benefits.

Goal 4: To introduce our Iraqi colleagues to modern theoretical frameworks for research.

This was the most ambitious goal, and the goal that we had the least hopes for. Education in Iraq has been based primarily on rote learning, while western approaches are based on testing hypotheses which themselves are based on broader theories which range from an emphasis on the economic basis of change to the importance of symbols and meaning in human society. Although our goal was not only to show them how modern research is conducted, but also to have them embrace these approaches, it was one which we doubted that we would achieve. Indeed, for some of the less engaged students, we were not successful in developing these new approaches, but for the faculty, museum staff and many of the students this was achieved. Our success here was made especially clear during the last week, when Marian Feldman presented research by John Russell on the relationship between text and image at the Sennacheribís palace at Nineveh. This led to a very vigorous discussion, where the group as a whole decided that Russell was wrong in his interpretation, a discussion where we were all approaching the material with the same basis on knowledge of the material and the same theoretical approaches.

Unanticipated Bonuses.

We had originally planned to have four hours of lectures per day, with a translator repeating what we had said in Arabic as we went along. This plan was rejected by our Iraqi colleagues at the outset, so instead we lectured in English, projecting both Arabic outlines of our lectures and including the same text in English in our PowerPoints. We have also had a lengthy break between lectures for more informal discussions. The result of 10 weeks of this kind of instruction has been an enormous improvement in the ability of the majority of the participants to use English.

The long period of the workshop means that we have built very strong relationships with our Iraqi colleagues which have allowed lengthy and frank discussions on the kinds of projects which would most benefit the Iraqi departments should the HEAD program be continued beyond the first year. These include more summer programs focusing on developing archaeological field skills and the ability to read cuneiform tablets, improving access to basic library resources through the development of an electronic, providing more opportunities for their best students to study abroad, increasing computer skills and providing training so that archaeological conservation can be taught in Iraq.

At the end of the session, all indicated that they had gained a great deal from the workshop, and those who had originally thought that it was for too long a period now wished it could continue longer. We were especially gratified that, although some did not arrive at the very beginning of the program, no one left early, and the one student who had to return to Baghdad to defend his dissertation in early August, returned as soon as he could.