Monthly Archives: November 2015

Conference: “Oral History in Times of Change: Gender, Documentation and the Making of Archives”

In September 2015, The Women Forum and Memory organized an international conference on “Oral History in Times of Change: Gender, Documentation and the Making of Archives,” in Cairo, Egypt. The conference was organized in co-operation with The Supreme Council for Culture in Cairo and UN Women. It was organized to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of Women Forum and Memory, which aims to produce alternative knowledge by constructing an archive of women’s voices.

The conference brought together scholars, researchers, students, artists, and practitioners to exchange views and experiences regarding the challenges of documenting oral histories in times of change. It focused on methodological and theoretical issues regarding the documentation of oral history and the creation of archives. The major questions that participants were urged to address included: What are the potential and limits of oral history projects in times of change? What are the challenges facing oral historians in such times? How can oral history empower women to become active participants in politics? What are the challenges posed by the digital revolution in the field of oral history? What are the challenges to the construction of a “representative” archive of voices in times of conflict?

Lucine Taminian (center-right) discussing oral history with researchers from Egypt, Yemen, and Iraq (Photo courtesy of Alaa Hameed, 2015)

Lucine Taminian (center-right) discussing oral history with researchers from Egypt, Yemen, and Iraq (Photo courtesy of Alaa Hameed, 2015)

The three-day conference started on September 13. Participants came from fourteen countries: Algeria, Canada, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sudan, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

The conference program consisted of eight panels, three keynote presentations, and two round tables. Other activities included the screening of two films, “Four Women of Egypt” and “In the Shadow of a Man,” and the Exhibit of the Private Papers of Wedad Mitiri (1927-2007), who was a prominent figure and unionist in the Egyptian national leftist movement. Recorded interviews with her were played while we walked through the exhibit.

I was invited to present a paper on “Oral History in Times of Conflict: Ethical and Methodological Issues.” My presentation was informed by my experience as senior researcher for TAARII’s Iraqi Oral History Project (IOHP), where more than 180 Iraqis living outside Iraq were interviewed. I explored the following questions, using examples from the oral histories we collected: Why do people remember what they remember? How does memory work? What challenges do oral historians face when documenting oral histories in times of conflict? How do the methods and ethics of documenting oral histories differ from other research methods and ethics?

Panel participants fielding questions from the audience (Photo courtesy of Alaa Hameed, 2015)

Panel participants fielding questions from the audience (Photo courtesy of Alaa Hameed, 2015)

Three additional panelists raised the challenges entailed in using oral histories. Sandra Hale, who has worked extensively in Sudan, questioned the application of “expert knowledge” as intervention in crisis. She raised three interesting questions: How can scholars interpret the various forms of knowledge produced by fact-finding missions, “truth” and reconciliation commissions, and witnessing and testimonies? How can we retrieve a form of knowledge from either the collective memory or individual memories to guide us in conflict resolution? Is indigenous knowledge/memory more valid than information produced by “experts” with its claim of “objectivity”? Nadje al-Ali from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), whose project documented the oral histories of Iraqi women, explored the issue of using oral histories when the prevailing narratives are politicized, contested, and linked to power struggles. Finally, Hessah Lootah, from United Arab Emirates University, talked about the challenges involved in “preserving” oral heritage, which entails reducing it and transferring it from an action-interaction space into one of “reading” and “classification.”

A number of presenters in other panels raised the issue of social media as a source of oral history. For instance, Randi Degulhem, from The Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (National Center for Scientific Research in France), researched two websites of Syrian activists (she calls them “amateur historians”) who collect short testimonies, video narratives, paper publications, graffiti, etc., and place them on the websites to document the history of the Syrian uprising. Nahawand Eissa, from the Lebanese University, shed light on the narratives of what she called “historian-citizens” who created new spaces made possible by recent advances in technology to document their memory without mediators. These presentations raise two related issues: how oral is an online text, and the relationship between orality and writing.

A number of presenters approached the multiple genres of oral history: popular working class songs, novels as depository of oral history, memoirs, testimonies, and drama as an archive of women’s experience.

The first round table, “Archives and Power,” focused on state control over the production of documents and archives, and raised two questions: If the state controls the production of documents, what about documents in the times of the Internet? And, how does state control limit/facilitate researchers’ access to an archive? The second round table, “Feminist Archives and the Production of Alternative Knowledge,” concerned three major questions: What is the nature of a “feminist archive”? What is alternative knowledge? What are the criteria for identifying knowledge as worthy of being preserved and documented?

The American University in Cairo has offered to publish a select number of conference papers in a special issue of Cairo Papers in Social Science (CPSS), a quarterly refereed monograph series, which has become a digital publication as of 2015.

The conference participants having dinner at a Mamluk Palace functioning currently as a cultural center (Photo credit: Lucine Taminian, 2015)

The conference participants having dinner at a Mamluk Palace functioning currently as a cultural center (Photo credit: Lucine Taminian, 2015)

Our Institutional Members: American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) & Institute of Regional and International Studies (IRIS)

Introduction

The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) is located in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), and is Iraq’s only non-profit, independent, liberal arts-inspired institution of higher learning. The Institute of Regional and International Studies (IRIS) is the University’s research and policy center.

Through multidisciplinary research projects, strategic partnerships, a fellowship program and open dialogue events among experts and influential public leaders, the University and its Institute examine the most complex issues facing the KRI, Iraq, and the Middle East, most notably during the annual Sulaimani Forum. The Institute’s main focus areas include but are not limited to: energy, governance, gender, IDP crisis, post-ISIS areas, water resource management, and archaeology.

 

Partnerships and Collaboration

AUIS and IRIS partner with scholars and institutions on research projects, conferences, and exchanges.

Through our fellowship program, AUIS and IRIS can offer scholars a safe and dynamic place to be based while conducting research and fieldwork on the Kurdistan Region, Iraq, or neighboring states. Please find the fellowship information and application here. If you have further questions and are interested in applying, please email us at iris@auis.edu.krd. You can find a list of past and current fellows here.

AUIS and IRIS are also interested in collaborating with universities, institutes, and organizations on student and faculty exchanges, to implement research projects or hold conferences and roundtables on academic subjects or current events. Our location and student body and staff allow a great deal of access to a variety of places and institutions around the KRI and Iraq.

 

AUIS and IRIS Faculty and Staff

AUIS faculty, IRIS staff, and fellows regularly conduct research and publish on topics related to Iraqi studies, especially with regard to digital archiving initiatives and archaeological excavation, gender studies, religion, and energy policy.

  • Professor Bilal Wahab is an expert on energy policy, and publishes and comments often on energy issues in Iraq and the KRI. Here is one of his recent publications, “Iraq and KRG Energy Policies: Actors Challenges and Opportunities.
  • Professor Edith Szanto has published extensively on Twelver Shi’i rituals, and conducts research on Sufism in the KRI.
  • Professor Choman Hardi is an expert on gender studies, and publishes on gender, genocide, migration, and the women’s movement in the KRI. Her book, Gendered Experiences of Genocide: Anfal Survivors in Kurdistan-Iraq, was chosen by the Yankee Book Peddler as a UK Core Title.
  • Professor Tobin Hartnell is an archaeologist and is working on a variety of projects in the KRI. His most recent work on the Sasanian Empire (224 – 651 CE) is published in the Journal of Ancient History.
  • Professor Elizabeth Campbell is a historian and her research focuses on religion in Iraq and Christian-Muslim relations. She is currently working on a project with UCLA to digitize local manuscripts and documents.
  • IRIS Director Christine van den Toorn has conducted research on local politics all over the KRI as well as disputed territories. Her current focus is on post-ISIS territories. She publishes frequently in Iraq Oil Report, Niqash, Inside Iraqi Politics, and Daily Beast.

The recently launched IRIS Iraq Report (IIR) offers on-the-ground reporting and analysis on Iraq’s most pressing issues and aims to provide decision-makers and experts with solid research and analysis of Iraq policy. The Report is unique because it is produced in Iraq, and is based on in-country fieldwork as well as open source research. The first IIR, titled “Challenges and Opportunities in post-ISIS Territories: The Case of Rabia,” can be found here.

 

Brief Background on AUIS

AUIS opened its doors in 2007 with several dozen students and now has over 1,400. Most faculty at AUIS hail from the United States, but also from countries around the world. Classes are all in English, and students must graduate from the rigorous year-long Academic Preparatory Program (APP) before entering the undergraduate program. AUIS offers majors in International Studies, Business Administration, English and Journalism, Information Technology, and Engineering. Inside the classroom, professors use lecture and discussion-based pedagogy rather than the traditional rote memorization used in Iraq and other regional states. AUIS also offers students the opportunity to engage in a variety of extracurricular activities similar to that in the U.S.: Debate Society, Model UN, sports teams, Shakespeare Club, and community service projects.

The student body hails from all over the Kurdistan Region and Iraq. The majority is from Sulaimani, the University’s host city, but there are large representations from Erbil and smaller towns like Ranya and Halabja. In addition, 18% of the student body is from “Iraq proper,” mainly from the capital, Baghdad, but with representations from Najaf, Kerbala, Basra, Anbar, Diyala, and Ninewa.

 

For more information please visit the AUIS website and IRIS website.

IRIS contact: iris@auis.edu.iq

AUIS contact: info@auis.edu.krd or communications@auis.edu.krd