ince 2008, a truly remarkable U.S.-Iraqi educational partnership launched with initial funding from the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, has been evolving in Erbil. Situated in the Kurdish region, Erbil is the largest city in northern Iraq and home to the 8,000-year-old Erbil citadel.
The Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage (IICAH) is training Iraq's museum and heritage professionals in the preservation and conservation of their national treasures, ranging from Babylonian archaeological sites to exquisite ivory figures from Nimrud and golden jewelry from Ur.
The institute is a collaboration of the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH), Kurdish Regional Government, the U.S. Embassy Baghdad, U.S. Department of State, University of Delaware, Winterthur Museum, Walters Art Museum, Getty Conservation Institute, University of Pennsylvania and University of Arizona.
With grants from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the Getty Foundation and the Mellon Foundation, and support from Bank of America, the University of Delaware's Institute for Global Studies and Department of Art Conservation, in cooperation with IICAH, will continue training students in Erbil, Iraq, into 2013.
This past February, UD's Jessica Johnson, IICAH's academic director, returned to Erbil to continue her work. She has been involved in the collaboration since May 2009.
Johnson has 20 years of experience in archaeology and artifact conservation. She previously was affiliated with the Smith- sonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and also has done archaeological work in eastern Syria and Turkey.
“To make the training most effective, it was decided that it would be better to do it in a more calm setting such as Erbil where there has been very little terrorist activity. Everyone feels comfortable here, not just Americans and foreigners — but those participating in the program — the Iraqis,” Johnson explains.
Johnson, who has been living in Erbil, says she feels safe working there with her Iraqi colleagues and believes that in a relatively short period, the institute has been able to achieve much. She says the local government was enthusiastic in providing the building and taking care of its renovation (estimated cost: $4.5 million), resulting in a unique center for all archaeological conservation in greater Iraq.
“Our laboratories provide hands-on opportunities to work on archaeological and historic objects, and heritage professionals from all over Iraq can use our facilities,” she notes.
In 2010, the administration of the institute was handed over to the Iraqis through a memorandum of understanding between the SBAH and the Erbil Governor's Office. The board of directors is composed of three representatives from the SBAH and two from the Kurdish Regional Government to manage the day-to-day business of the institute.
The University of Delaware's current support from external sources (totaling $1.7 million) is designed to continue conservation training and to expand into two new areas, says Johnson, whose expertise is in archaeological and ethnographic conservation (that is, the preservation of three-dimensional objects).
This year, the U.S. Embassy grant also provides for the establishment of an advisory council of Americans and Iraqis tasked with diversifying and developing systematic funding.
Another goal is to develop private funding, which, for the years 2012–13, is being provided by the Getty Foundation and the Mellon Foundation, both of which have a history of support for heritage conservation and training activities throughout the world.
A separate grant from Bank of America will support conservation work on ivories from the famous archaeological site of Nimrud on the Tigris River southeast of Mosul. These ivories come out of the tombs of queens and kings (3,000 years old), and many of them decorated exquisite pieces of furniture.
“They are very fragile, very important and very beautiful,” Johnson says. “We will be working to preserve these ivory pieces because they are such an important part of the history of Iraq.”
The institute recruits students from museums across Iraq. Most students have a bachelor's degree in archaeology; others are artists, scientists, chemists and geologists.
Courses are taught in English but translated into Arabic and Kurdish so that all participants can follow along. The students work on artifacts that have been unearthed during past archaeological excavations in Iraq, or are in local museums.
“Collaboration with archaeological excavations may develop in the future,” Johnson says. “Other experts can come to our institute and use our facilities and work with our students.”
Two classes are offered: “Introductory Preventive Conservation,” which has been taught three times since the institute began, and “Advanced Laboratory Conservation,” initiated in 2011. Class sizes range from 6–11 students.
The students follow 24 weeks of training, divided into three modules. After eight weeks, they return to their home institution to work on a project for two weeks. This ensures that they use their new knowledge in their home institutions and teach others. It also gives the students an incentive to implement the new approaches they have learned in their actual work, Johnson explains.
“We take two breaks, one during the New Year and one around Ramadan,” she says. “It is a total of 30 weeks of academics during which the students also take intensive English. The best students from the first group are invited to the more advanced course, and that is where we start treating artifacts and improving critical thinking skills. They also work on their computer skills.”
After the two-year program, the students will be able to apply for fellowships and continue to build their own ties with those in the field in the international community.
“One of our students is now at NYU for one year, taking some of the classes required for a master's program,” she notes.
Some students become “master trainers,” which is part of the sustainability plan.
“We are trying to prepare a group of people who will take care of the day-to-day running of classes and the laboratories,” she says. “The long-term goal is to have the Iraqis take over the institute.”
For the duration of the program, students live at the institute 24 hours a day. They are given leave from their work. They don't have to pay for food or lodging, and in addition, they receive a per diem allowance.
Instructors such as Vicki Cassman, a professor of art conservation at UD, travel to the institute for a two-week period to teach. Last semester, Molly McGath, a doctoral candidate from the University of Arizona, taught the students basic skills for analyzing metal, ceramic, ivory and stone materials. Many instructors are leading experts in the field internationally.
The institute in Erbil works in tandem with another program, sponsored by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the Superior Institute for Conservation and Restoration. The Italians were initially supposed to work in Baghdad, but for security reasons, they moved to Erbil, thus giving the Iraqi students a different perspective in art conservation.
UD's additional contribution to the institute is the credit the students receive through continuing education. At the successful completion of each module, the students receive a certificate verifying their 60 credits of continuing education.
“In so many ways, this has been the most rewarding and challenging experience for me,” says Johnson. “Watching these students and seeing how much they want to do for the future in this field for their country is pure joy.”
Hayman, a student in the program, says he has already passed along “practical and theoretical ideas” to his museum colleagues, as well as new handling techniques for artifacts.
“I get new ideas about how to protect heritage because before there was nothing like the institute in Iraq,” he says.
Since its inception in 2008, the Iraqi Institute has trained over 100 professionals. In 2012, this dedicated partnership will continue its collaboration with museums across Iraq to expand training programs in cultural preservation.
Participants in the Iraqi Institute for the Preservation of Antiquities and Heritage include men and women, Arabs and Kurds, Muslims and Christians, Sunni and Shia from across Iraq — all drawn together by a shared passion for the preser- vation of some of humankind's most ancient artifacts.
The University of Delaware and leading universities in Colombia have been educating top engineering scholars through a thriving collaboration. This past summer, a delegation of engineering deans from seven of these partnering universities visited the University to learn about the impact that graduate study at UD is having on Colombian academics and to discuss possible new collaborations.
Visitors included Diego Hernandez, Universidad Nacional de Colombia; Ernesto Villarreal, Universidad Militar N.G.; Francisco Rebolledo, Universidad Javeriana/Colciencias representative; Edgar Quiroga, Universidad del Valle; Gilberto Vargas, Universidad Tecnologica de Pereira; Natalia Gaviria, Universidad de Antioquia; and Gerardo Latorre, Universidad Industrial de Santander.
“Colombia is investing heavily in graduate education, along with Brazil and Chile, by partnering with international universities. We believe this is a good opportunity for UD because we already have a track record of collaboration,” said Gonzalo Arce, Charles Black Evans Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Arce, together with Hernan Navarro, research associate professor in the College of Education and Human Development, pioneered the UD-Colombian University partnership in 1997, a program that annually brings top Colombian scholars to UD for a summer of research. Outstanding students are typically admitted to UD doctoral programs.
Today, the UD College of Engineering has formal agreements with 11 Colombian universities and 30 Ph.D. students from Colombia. So far, nearly 20 Colombian students have graduated with doctoral degrees in electrical and computer engineering, the program's initial emphasis.
UD alumnus Sebastian Hoyos believes the program is creating “the largest group of highly educated Colombians in both the United States and Colombian academia and industry.” The Colombian native earned both a master's degree and a doctoral degree in electrical engineering, in 2002 and 2004, respectively.
“The exchange program provided me the education and degrees that I needed to fulfill my professional dreams. As this group of UD-Colombian graduates gets larger, it will represent a critical mass of highly educated contributors to both the Colombian and U.S. society,” said Hoyos, now an assistant professor at Texas A&M University.
“Our mutual goal is to train 100 future Colombian faculty at the Ph.D.-level over the next ten years,” added Navarro. “Ten years ago, the number of Ph.D.-degreed individuals in Colombia was very small. Now, many doors are opening at UD. We look forward to producing new initiatives that will raise the level of academic expertise and educational infrastructure available to Colombian students.”
UD has fostered partnerships with Colombian universities for over two decades. Today, the College of Engineering has formal agreements with 11 Colombian universities.
A new collaboration began this past August when a delegation of professors and alumni from the UD Department of Music traveled to Bogotá to meet with colleagues from Pontifica Universidad Javeriana. Their partnership began, fittingly, with a concert.
Among the participants were UD cello professor Lawrence Stomberg, Grammy award-winning producer and UD faculty member Andreas K. Meyer, soprano and UD alumnus Catherine Short de Arce and professors from the department of music at Pontifica Universidad Javeriana led by chair Andrés Samper and dean of arts Leonor Convers.
More collaborative concerts are planned for 2012, including Mozart's Requiem in Bogotá and a concert in Delaware with invited guests from Colombia.