Category Archives: Archival Research

US Research Fellowships for 2015: Alissa Walter

Alissa Walter, History, Georgetown University, received a TAARII US Research Fellowship for 2015 for her project Ba‘thist Baghdad: A History of Non-Elite City Life under Authoritarianism, Wars, and Sanctions.


Alissa Walter’s dissertation presents a history of Baghdad’s lower classes as they experienced regime changes, urbanization, authoritarian governance, wars, and sanctions in post-colonial Iraq, with a focus on the Ba‘thist period (1968–2003). Centering her study on Baghdad provides insights into how government, party, and society interacted in the center of the capital city. Drawing on archival research in England and France (and other non-TAARII funded research sites), Walter will study the transformations of neighborhood social institutions, including black markets, smuggling rings, charitable organizations, welfare systems, religious movements, and neighborhood committees during the tumultuous years of the Ba‘th regime. Her conclusions about the social transformations of Baghdad under Ba‘th Party rule will point to the long-term factors that contributed to violent societal breakdown and sectarianism post-2003. Her research project is positioned to provide valuable insights to historians to understand everyday life under the Ba‘th regime as well as to political scientists who are concerned with contemporary developments in Iraq.

US Research Fellowships for 2015: John Caleb Howard

Jon Caleb Howard, Near Eastern Studies, Johns Hopkins University, received a TAARII US Research Fellowship for 2015 for his project The Mechanics of Scribal Production of Neo-Assyrian Royal Inscriptions.


The goal of Jon Caleb Howard’s project is to reconstruct the process of scribal production of the royal inscriptions of Ashurnasirpal II in the Northwest Palace at Kalḫu. Howard intends to do this by studying variation between manuscripts of the Standard Inscription and the inscription that appears on colossi and on the throne-base, within the architectural and artistic context of the Northwest Palace. The heart of his project is the compilation of a score of these two compositions based on collation and legible photographs of the reliefs, so that variation between manuscripts may be observed, cataloged, and interpreted. Since there remain some reliefs and sculpture from the Northwest Palace that do not have published legible photographs, Howard will visit collections in England, France, Germany, Belgium, and Denmark where they are on display in order to collate and photograph them.

The Svoboda Diaries Project at the University of Washington

The Svoboda Diaries Project ( is working to bring an important collection of primary source documents from 19th century Iraq into the 21st century. The Project is an arm of the Newbook Digital Texts project ( at the University of Washington, one of TAARII’s institutional members.

The Project team is currently working to transcribe the diaries of Joseph Mathia Svoboda. Joseph was a clerk aboard a Lynch Brothers Steamship, and kept an extensive diary from 1860 until his death in 1908. The Project’s undergraduate interns are at work transcribing 46 volumes of Joseph’s diaries for prompt and inexpensive publication. In conjunction with the transcription and eventual publication of the diaries, Project staff are also working to assemble a wiki-style biographical encyclopedia of the Svoboda family and the many people with whom they interacted, which they have titled the “Svobodapedia.” Recent graduate student research utilizing these diaries has focused on Ottoman public health institutions as well as kinship networks and political power on the Ottoman-Qajar frontier. The Project staff welcomes the support and contributions of other scholars and anyone else interested in Iraq or in life in 19th-century Baghdad, and are open to any comments, corrections, or additional information.

The Svoboda Diaries Project is also pleased to announce that their first print publication is now available. The book is entitled From Bagdad to Paris: 1897  Journal of a Journey to Europe by Land Road via Damascus and Beirut. It is a first-person account of a journey undertaken in 1897 by a 19-year-old resident of Baghdad named Alexander Richard Svoboda, Joseph Mathia Svoboda’s son. The son of a wealthy and influential family of European merchants and artists, Alexander describes the day-to-day details of his lengthy voyage in the local Christian Arabic dialect. The text of the book is bilingual, with a transcription of the original Arabic text and an English translation by Nowf Allawi. Walter G. Andrews of the University of Washington edited the text and contributed the introduction.

Alexander Richard Svoboda

For more information, please contact Kearby Chess at or Walter Andrews at

Fellow Update: Brandon Wolfe-Hunnicutt (2011 US TAARII Fellow)

I am very grateful for the research opportunities that the TAARII fellowship provided. My Ph.D. dissertation, “The End of the Concessionary Regime: Oil and American Power in Iraq, 1958–1972” (Stanford University, 2011), would not have been possible without the generous funding provided by TAARII. The TAARII fellowship allowed me to travel to the British Petroleum archive at Warwick University in Coventry England, and then on to the American University in Beirut where I conducted research on manuscripts and memoirs of Iraqi exiles who settled in Beirut in the 1970s.

These resources were invaluable to my dissertation research as they offered insight into the processes institution building in Iraq that allowed for the complete nationalization of the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC) at a relatively early date (1972–75).

Since completing my dissertation, I’ve begun teaching U.S. and Middle East History at the University of California, Merced. Teaching offers its own rewards and challenges, and I’ve particularly enjoyed having the opportunity to teach the history of Iraq. Undergraduate students tend to come into the class with a great many preconceived notions about history of Iraq, many of which are problematic, and I’m honored to have the opportunity to offer a deeper and more realistic understanding of modern Iraqi history.

I’ve also been working on publishing my research. My article, “Embracing Regime Change: US Foreign Policy and the 1963 Coup in Iraq” was recently accepted for publication by the editors of Diplomatic History and will be forthcoming in 2014. The article expands on research that I began while working on my dissertation, but includes many additional sources that I came across while a TAARII fellow. My article contributes to a growing body of scholarship on the 1963 coup and the question of U.S. involvement. Those interested in this subject might want to also consult several pieces of recent scholarship including: Weldon Matthews, “The Kennedy Administration, Counterinsurgency, and Iraq’s First Ba‘thist Regime,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 43, no. 4 (2011): 635–53; Johan Franzén, Red Star over Iraq: Iraqi Communism Before Saddam (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011); Eric Jacobsen, “A Coincidence of Interests: Kennedy, U.S. Assistance, and the 1963 Iraqi Ba’th Regime,” Diplomatic History 37:5 (May 2013): 1029–59. I am also currently revising my dissertation for publication by incorporating new sources, reorganizing the chapter presentation, and situating the analysis of U.S.-Iraqi relations in the 1958–1972 period within a broader historical context.

I would be very happy to talk with interested scholars about my research, the TARRII fellowship, or recent developments in the field. I can be reached at

An Update from John Bowlus (2011 US TAARII Fellow)

I will always be grateful for my TAARII Fellowship as I simply could not have visited the archives that I did and my dissertation would not be as multi-perspectival as it is. The TAARII Fellowship permitted me to travel to London to view the UK National Archives and then to Coventry to mine the archives of British Petroleum. After Britain, I went to the archives of the Quai D’Orsay and the Total Oil Company in Paris.

It is well known that the British played an important role in Iraq politically until 1958 and in oil until 1972, but the French influence in oil after the nationalization of the Petroleum Company (IPC) in 1972 is less understood. The archives of the Total Oil Company provide a wealth of information, particularly for the period from 1972 to 1980, and few American scholars have examined these sources. I would estimate that roughly 30-40% of the files are in French, but the remaining 60% are in English, since this was the language of interaction between the Iraqis and French on oil matters. Also, Total has all of the files for the IPC, which document the history of the company from 1934 to 1972. An even greater majority of these files are in English, probably 80%.

I would be more than happy to advise fellow TAARII fellowship winners or others who are interested in visiting these archives and look forward to hearing about your work related to the history of Iraq.

An Update from John Nielsen (2005 US TAARII Fellow)

With the generous support of a TAARII Fellowship, I spent the autumn of 2005 copying and collating early Neo-Babylonian legal and administrative tablets in British collections. The vast majority of the tablets were housed in the British Museum, but I also spent time looking at tablets in the Ashmolean’s collection in Oxford and traveled to Edinburgh and Truro, Cornwall, to study additional tablets. The tablets dated from the 8th and 7th centuries B.C. and provided invaluable information about the social and economic history of Babylonia at a time when the Neo-Assyrian Empire was the dominant power in the Near East.

My primary interest was in tracing the activities of the urban elites in Babylonian society who controlled temple and civic offices as well as land. Many members of this class had begun using ancestral or occupational names as family names at this time and a corresponding interest of mine was the emergence of these family names. This research was critical to the completion of my dissertation, “Sons and Descendants: A Social History of Kin Groups and Family Names in the Early Neo-Babylonian Period, 747–626 B.C.,” which I then modified for publication in the Brill series Culture and History of the Ancient Near East.

My work reading and copying tablets was also essential for two of my articles (“Adbi’ilu: An Arab at Babylon [BM 78912]” in Antiguo Oriente 7 [2009]: 199–205, and “Three Early-Neo-Babylonian Tablets belonging to Bel-etir of the Misiraya Kin Group” in JCS 62 [2010]: 97–106) and will be featured in an article I’m currently working on that will feature the seven-tablet archive of a man named Nadinu and his son Labashi at Dilbat.

An Update from Arbella Bet-Shlimon (2009 US TAARII Fellow)

As you know, I was a 2009 TAARII fellow with my project “Kirkuk, 1918–1968: Oil and the Politics of Identity in an Iraqi City.” I had started working on this project in 2007. The TAARII grant assisted me with a year’s worth of research in various libraries and archives in the United Kingdom from 2009 to 2010. I have since completed the Ph.D. dissertation for which I undertook this research, and I graduated from Harvard in 2012. In the meantime, I have published two articles based on this research. The first, “Group Identities, Oil, and the Local Political Domain in Kirkuk: A Historical Perspective” came out in the Journal of Urban History 38, no. 5 in 2012. The second, “The Politics and Ideology of Urban Development in Iraq’s Oil City: Kirkuk, 1946–58,” was just published in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 33, no. 1, in Spring 2013.

Throughout this process of research and writing, I have developed and presented a more robust understanding of Kirkuk’s history than that which I proposed in my initial application for TAARII funding (as reported in the Spring 2009 TAARII Newsletter). Specifically, my research in the UK helped me locate the linkages between the Kirkuki oil industry and local identity politics — which, at the time, I said I would look into — in the relationship between oil, political institutions, and urban development. I have also come to understand that it is best to frame Kirkuk’s identity politics as a process of ethnicization of community interests that took place over the course of the twentieth century. I am now in the process of converting the dissertation into a book for publication, which I hope will bring my work to a wider audience.

TAARII-sponsored Roundtable Discussion at MESA: Researching Iraq Today

TAARII is pleased to be sponsoring the following roundtable discussion at the Middle East Studies Association 47th Annual Meeting in New Orleans from October 10–13, 2013.

The roundtable, [R3406] Researching Iraq Today: Archives, Oral Histories, and Ethnographies, will take place on Saturday, October 12, at 11:00 a.m.


Iraq has weathered one of the longest periods of ongoing and active combat in its history over the last decade. Simultaneously, the country has witnessed a resurgence of historical, ethnographic, and politically engaged research by international scholars. Ten years after the American-led coalition invasion, the panelists on this interdisciplinary roundtable propose that it is time to discuss the methodologies, difficulties, and possibilities of conducting scholarly research on Iraq today.

This roundtable examines the potential for and limits of historical and ethnographic fieldwork on — and in — Iraq. Drawing from a range of historical and contemporary contexts that span environmental movements, political movements, media representations, and urban transformations, panelists will explore three fundamental questions. First, what kinds of historical, especially archival, research and ethnographic engagement can be sustained in Iraq today? Second, how do the successes and challenges of such qualitative research influence both the quality of original scholarship on Iraq and the integrity of knowledge about Iraq itself? Third, what role do archives outside of Iraq — such as colonial archives and oil-company papers — play in these processes?

To address these questions, the roundtable considers the conditions for ethnographic fieldwork under the Ba’th period and in the subsequent decade that followed the American-led invasion, as well as discussing the status of the Iraqi archives and underexplored human and archival sources outside of Iraq. Questioning potential connections between various fieldwork methodologies and the ongoing occupation of Iraq, we will explore how these politically problematic relationships and uncomfortable alignments come to be embraced, negotiated, or refused by the researcher. Collectively, we examine the historical and ethnographic tactics and approaches used to research Iraq in the midst of conflict and we consider how these innovative forms have, in turn, spurred disciplinary transformations in the conventions of qualitative research.


For more information, visit MESA’s website and the roundtable’s page

Basbakanlik Ottoman Archives Moving

The Basbakanlik Ottoman Archives in Istanbul will be temporally closed between March 18 and April 15. The opening of the archives in the new building at Kağıthane is scheduled for April 16, 2013.

The current facility at Bab-ı Ali Gülhane, where the Ottoman archives have been located for more than 150 years, closed on March 17, 2013, for one month. The new facility at Kağıthane is scheduled to open April 16, 2013. Access to both the digitized archival material and original documents will be made available.

The new facility is located at Sadabad, İmrahor Caddesi, Kağıthane/İstanbul.