The Nahrein Network


Storytelling Iraq's Written Heritage

Team: Dr. Ahmed Al-Aalyawee and Dr. Dahlia Khay Azeez

Duration: 18 months 

‘Storytelling Iraq’s written heritage’ empowers Iraqi researchers at the House of Manuscripts and those connected to it by studying and researching a section of Iraq’s largest collection of manuscripts and rare books. The project will help overcome decades of neglect of Iraq’s manuscripts and rare books by supporting research, especially Iraqi female researchers, to produce socially and culturally relevant research. To date, Iraq’s manuscripts and rare books have been the target of historical and modern looting, including under ISIS/DAESH, and now a large portion of Iraq’s written heritage is outside the country. Support for Iraqi researchers has been absent and this project, with a view to raising the profile of Iraqi researchers in the country, will work to build an Iraqi knowledge base premised on diversity and the multiplicity of cultures, religions and ethnicities that constitute Iraq.

Manuscripts (and those working in this field) in Iraq continue to be treated as being of lesser significance than archaeological artefacts, one of the legacies and outcomes of colonialism and the continuing bias and prioritisation by Western aid agencies and heritage donors. This is also the case among Iraqi cultural institutions. Such a structure continues to be reinforced, where Iraq's heritage is read, studied and interpreted by non-Iraqis. This project addresses those legacies and practices and sets out to support Iraqi-based research for the purpose of knowledge production for Iraq.

In 2002 and 2003, the manuscripts collection of 47,000 items were protected by female-members of the institution and have since been safeguarded but not studied or researched. As part of this project the voices and perspectives of the House of Manuscripts' female-majority staff will be recorded through oral history documentation and research.

Manuscript collections in Arabic, Persian, Kurdish, Ottoman Turkish, Syriac, Hebrew and Mandaic will be researched before they are curated and this initiative that brings together those languages will be the first time this has been conducted in Iraq. Among its different activities, this project will study manuscripts and use the knowledge gained in that process to produce research as well as public facing outputs, for Iraqi society to learn, cherish and celebrate Iraq's rich cultural histories.

The manuscripts will be selected to represent different periods of the country's history as well as its multi-ethnic and multi-religious communities. The project therefore pursues new research about Iraq's rich cultural heritage as manifested through its written heritage and proposes a model for bridging cultural, ethnic and religious differences in the country and developing new forms of knowledge that are based on research, storytelling and knowledge that champion the country's multiplicity of perspectives and cultures.

The project will produce a number of outputs, including a public exhibition (at the Iraq Museum) manuscript content will be presented and celebrated, a series of videos and written material and an academic paper. Another important output is the recent history of those that safeguarded those manuscripts and rare books in 2003 will be documented and their voices and perspectives elevated within SBAH and in Iraq more generally. A learning box will also be produced and seminars, and workshops organised throughout the duration of the 18-month project.