UCL Research


Nahrein Network

The Nahrein Network: New Ancient History Research for Education in Iraq and its Neighbours.


PI: Professor Eleanor Robson
UCL Department: Department of History
Partner countries: Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey
Funders: AHRC-GCRF

Project description

Since 2017 the AHRC-GCRF-funded Nahrein Network has pioneered a new approach to research on heritage, history and the humanities in Iraq and its neighbours. Driven by the twin challenges of rapid demographic change and systematic exclusions from academia in a highly fragile post-conflict state, it aims to decolonise and pluralise the production and consumption of knowledge about the region’s past, by supporting locally-led, interdisciplinary research on its sustainable economic and/or social benefits. The Network offers research grants and short-term visiting scholarships to local researchers, aiming to better understand the current situation, raise the profile of local expertise, improve job prospects, help heritage organisations better serve local needs and facilitate post-conflict healing and reconciliation. As well as these bottom-up approaches we also collaborate with Chatham House and state institutions on developing the role of heritage in economic and social development.

Collaborations and partnerships in LMICs

The Nahrein Network was co-designed in 2017 by UK and Iraqi stakeholders. It has equally staffed offices at UCL, London and at Sulaimani Polytechnic University, Iraq. Fortnightly Skype meetings between the two centres ensure equal input, local expertise and facilitate meetings in country. Membership of the management committee, which meets quarterly, is half Iraqi. The projects funded can be led by either an Iraqi, Lebanese, Turkish or UK-based PI. Small grants (~£30,000) do not need UK collaborators and in the case of large grants (~£100,000), international teams must have in-country Co-Is and researchers and at least 50% of the grant must be spent in the LMIC.

The benefits and impacts of the project activities to LMICs

The project has supported the creation of in-country partnerships between local HEIs and heritage institutions as well as international ones; consolidated relationships with Iraqi Ministries of Culture and of Higher Education and Scientific Research; encouraged rethinking of higher education curricula & promoted intra- & inter-community engagement with heritage. As a result, Iraqi universities are taking active steps in networking both in-country and internationally, ending decades of isolation. Two projects with Chatham House and for the European Union have enabled Iraqi experts to contribute fully to the development of international policy on heritage funding and state-building respectively. Spin-off projects with additional funding are currently building the Nahrein legacy.

Specific benefits include:

  • Bringing the specific challenges faced by the Arts and Humanities in post-conflict Iraq to the forefront of academic and political discourse
  • 19 locally-led research projects supported across the country, many of which involve new collaborations within and beyond Iraq, increasing local heritage experts’ access to international funding and collaboration
  • Raising the level of local expertise through funding 15 Visiting Scholarships for bespoke placements in the UK, in collaboration with the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, the British Institute in Ankara, the Council for British Research in the Levant, and the Iran Heritage Foundation
  • Providing training on: publishing internationally, conservation, digital heritage, development of international partnerships, all with ever increasing participation
  • Organising round-tables to bring together politicians, local experts, scholars and policymakers to support dialogue over state building
  • Supporting the Iraqi Ministries of Culture and of Higher Education and Scientific Research to develop strategy on sustainability and international collaborations
  • Fostering of a variety of expert networks, most notably Kurdish Cultural Heritage, Iraqi museum curators, and (with The Station, Baghdad) youth heritage entrepreneurs
  • Enabling many Iraqi members to attain job promotions, follow-on grants, higher international profiles, new collaborations, and develop their careers in other ways
  • Advising major international agencies and funders, such as UNESCO Iraq, UNAMI, the EU, ALIPH and the Kaplan Foundation, on developing people-first, rather than building- or site-based funding strategies.