Eleanor Robson awarded £1.8m AHRC funding for new Iraq-based research network

21 September 2017

Eleanor Robson

The Nahrein Network team at the University of Kurdistan Hewler, with the Dean of Social Sciences Dr Anwar Anaid (second from left)

Images of ancient historical sites, reduced to rubble, have been streaming out of Iraq and Syria and onto news media worldwide since at least 2014. In response, international aid projects have pumped millions of dollars of aid into documenting, digitising and conserving the region's heritage. But until now, these efforts have too often ignored the relationship between the area's ancient history and its contemporary population.

The Nahrein Network, a new research network led by UCL History's Professor Eleanor Robson and supported by a £1.8 million grant from the AHRC's Global Challenges Research Fund, aims to remedy this oversight. In keeping with the goals of the GCRF, the network will draw on the ancient history of Iraq and its neighbours as a means to improve the skills and further the long-term prospects of local communities. With the support of universities and cultural heritage organisations from across the UK and the Middle East, Professor Robson and her colleagues will establish an ambitious programme of scholarships, partnerships and interdisciplinary research that promises to effect lasting change.

A visiting scholarship programme will bring around 20 Middle Eastern researchers for short-term research placements at UK universities. A new Research Centre on the Sustainable Development of Cultural Heritage, led by project co-investigator Dr Saad Eskander, will be established at the University of Kurdistan in Erbil, driving forward humanities research in the region. A partnership with the University of Baghdad will see Professor Robson collaborate on research into the teaching of ancient history and the humanities, to develop the next generation of graduates and professionals. And co-investigator Dr Paul Collins, of the Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, will work with Basrah Museum to reclaim the area's local history for local audiences. 

Professor Robson said: "I'm hugely excited by the opportunity this grant provides to help colleagues in Iraq, Kurdistan, and neighbouring countries foster the sustainable development of antiquity, cultural heritage, and the humanities in the post-conflict Middle East. As ISIS/Da'esh loses power and territory, we have an unprecedented opportunity to foster more inclusive, supportive and hopeful futures for the many, many people who have been excluded, violated and oppressed. Every life we enrich, every person we educate and empower, every decision-maker we convince with this work will be a small step to a more positive world."

UCL History's head of department, Professor Jason Peacey, added: "This is a timely and hugely imaginative project. What makes it so exciting is that, in responding to the tragic recent conflicts in the Middle East, which have seen so much damage being done to archaeological and cultural sites, the central focus will be on local communities and local interests. The project will thus make capacity-building and collaboration within the region's educational and heritage sectors absolutely central to wider work towards reconstruction and development."