Blogs > Cliopatria > The Plight of Iraqi Historians (Part One)

May 24, 2004 2:57 pm


The Plight of Iraqi Historians (Part One)



Professor Mahmoud Abdul-Wahid Mahmoud teaches part of the time in the History department of Baghdad University. He admits freely that he decided to research Carolingian Europe for his PhD dissertation in order to get a government grant to study abroad. Unfortunately for him, Baathist Iraq stopped sending students abroad in 1983, in the third year of the Iraq-Iran war. Citing wartime exigencies, the government not only shut down the scholarship program but forbade foreigners from entering Iraq to teach. As a result, Professor Abdul-Wahid and many thousands of Iraqi PhD students were forced to rely on an earlier, much-traveled generation for information on the archival repositories and library collections in the West. And when Professor Mahmoud’s generation finally began to write their dissertations, the sanctions regime under which Baathist Iraq was forced to operate had so bitten into the entry of new books and journals that the Professor had to write his doctoral thesis solely using secondary sources, in fact, Arabic language books. Historians will understand the irony of writing “original” research in a language that has very little to do with the authentic sources for a particular subject, and of being so ignorant of the languages in the field that you make elementary mistakes in transliterating Western names in Arabic because you don’t have a clue as to what they sound like in French, English or German.

Nadia is one of the whiz kids in contemporary history, also at Baghdad University. She passed her orals and is researching her topic—“The Young Turk” period in early twentieth century Iraq—in Arabic. She is slightly better off than Professor Mahmoud because she was able to get hold of a computer and hook it to the internet. Nadia was able to compile a wish list of books on her topic by searching Amazon.com. However, they are just that, a list. Her department is unable to send away for the books because they have barely enough money to run the department itself. It’s a scandal that has even roused the ire of the American Advisor to the Ministry of Higher Education, Dr. John Agresto. In a blistering statement, he told Associated Press on Friday May 21 that the United States “had failed to rebuild Iraq's university system just weeks before the planned handover of control…and that Congress has provided only about $8 million of the $500 million needed to repair damage resulting mainly from postwar looting”, adding that “foreign governments have done little more”. (TO BE CONTINUED).

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Ralph E. Luker - 5/26/2004

You're right. Blogging is fun and you're very good at it. Fair warning: it's addictive!


Hala Fattah - 5/26/2004

Thank you, both, for your continuing support and encouragement.This blogging is great fun.
Best, Hala


Jonathan Dresner - 5/25/2004

Ditto, as they say.


Ralph E. Luker - 5/25/2004

Thanks for reporting to us on how the chaos in Iraq is affecting our colleagues there. I look forward to your continuing reports.

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