Scholars from nine countries spend four weeks visiting ancient sites, studying preservation of the Middle East's historic past.
The UCLA International Institute with support from UCLA's Office of Summer Sessions and funding from the Getty Museum sponsored a four-week summer institute in Istanbul, Turkey, this July under the title "Constructing the Past in the Middle East." Twenty-three scholars took part in the program, which included lectures by specialists in Middle Eastern art and archaeology, a daunting reading list, and field trips to some of the most famous cities of the ancient world.
The Summer Institute was based at Istanbul's Bilgi University. It was led by Middle Eastern art historians Irene Bierman (UCLA) and Robert Nelson (University of Chicago). Irene Bierman is a former director of UCLA's Center for Near Eastern Studies and is author of Writing Signs, The Fatimid Public Text (University of California Press, 1998) and a forthcoming book, Art and Islam, to be published by Oxford University Press. Robert Nelson is the author of Theodore Hagiopetrites, A Late Byzantine Scribe and Illuminator (Vienna: Oesterreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1991) and of the forthcoming Remembering Holy Wisdom: Hagia Sophia, Medieval Church and Modern Monument. He has had a long association with the Getty Museum where he has spent long periods as a Getty Fellow beginning in 1986.
A number of prominent specialists came to Istanbul to deliver lectures, while the participants worked their way through an ambitious reading list that ranged from the history of Middle Eastern peoples to the protocols of museum preservation techniques. On their second day in Istanbul the whole group visited the famous Hagia Sophia, the Great Church built by Justinian in the sixth century. They split into groups that then examined the Museum of Hagia Sophia and grounds, the Mosque of Sultan Ahmet, the Hippodrome and Cistern, and the streets around the Hagia Sophia. The next day they created Power Point presentations with their digital photos as a focus for their discussions.
In a report to the Getty after their return to the United States, Irene Bierman and Robert Nelson commented, "The second week continued with brief introductions to historical preservation, especially in Istanbul, and archaeology, particularly in relation to nation states. By mid week, we were confronting the most troubling and emotionally vexed issue, the construction of the past in Israel. The next day the group heard from its two Palestinian members about their work to record and restore the pasts of the West Bank. We made it through some emotional moments with the group spirit intact."
During the third week, the group traveled to seven Turkish cities and towns along the Agean coast, all once famed throughout the Mediterranean and which remain high points of archaeological exploration and preservation efforts. The itinerary included:
Iznik, discovered by Antigonus, Alexander the Great's general, in 316 BC. The city was once famous for its ceramic art tiles.
Bursa, the first capital of the Ottoman empire, where the tomb of the founder of the Ottoman empire, Osman Bey, is located.
Izmir, whose history goes back to 3000 B.C. It was known in the ancient world as Smyrna. Its Temple of Athena is thought to have been built between the years 725-700 B.C., and is the most ancient example of Greek architecture in the East. Today Izmir is Turkey's third largest city with a population of 2.4 million.
Sardis. Some 60 miles east of Izmir, Sardis lies in the territory of ancient Lydia and was the Lydian capital in the 7th and 6th centuries BC. It overlooks the Hermus River plain, where archaeologists have found signs of human habitation going back to 50,000 B.C.
Ephesus, whose ruins are located near the modern village of Selcuk. The site of the Temple of Artemis, its inhabitants took part in the Persian and Peloponnesian wars.
Bodrum. Known to history as Halicarnassus, this city goes back to the 13th century BC. It was the site of still earlier villages reaching back 5000 years. The Greek historian Herodotus was born there in 484 BC. Bodrum's oldest antiquity is the Mausoleum, built by Artemisia II in honor of her husband King Mausolos. It became one of the wonders of the ancient world, and gave its name to tombs the world over. A high point of the UCLA/Getty Summer Institute visit was the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology.
Aphrodisias. One of the most important archaeological sites of the Greek and Roman periods in Turkey, the ruined city of Aphrodisias lies in the Maeander River basin, in a fertile valley 100 miles southeast of Izmir. It is famous for its sanctuary of Aphrodite, the city's patron goddess. Bert Smith of Oxford University was on hand to offer background on Aphrodisias.
Bierman and Nelson commented afterward of the trip to Aphrodisias:
"The trip was long and hot, and it proved impossible to discuss adequately on the bus. In the evening people were too tired for a group analysis. . . . Nevertheless throughout the long hot days, the group stayed focused on our project, and several had high praise for how the trip made concrete the theoretical issues of the classroom. It was 'the climax for the various issues discussed previously in class.' Our last day was the most grueling -- seven hours on a bus and Aphrodisias at the hottest time of the day. Yet Aphrodisias was the most popular site visited. Second was the Underwater Museum in a Crusade Castle in Bodrum, because it presented so many of the issues that we had debated."
Back at Bilgi University in Istanbul, the group heard presentations from Dr. Jukka Jokilehto, World Heritage Advisor to the International Council on Monuments and Sites, and Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt, among other speakers.
Irene Bierman and Robert Nelson afterward said they considered the Summer Institute a definite success. "The group spirit fostered was remarkable and continued to the end, in spite of this and that problem: the food in our first hotel, a construction project across the street from the hotel, and a hot and humid classroom in the afternoons. The strength of the Institute -- its diversity intellectually, professionally, culturally, politically, and religiously -- meant that we seldom had uniformity on anything other than bad food at first. From the start, we, as directors, emphasized flexibility, changing readings, discussion formats, classrooms, and trips to respond to group initiatives."
"The UCLA/Getty Summer Institute was exciting, challenging, provocative, and transforming. Friends were made, and new research launched. Few had the chance to digest what we quickly surveyed in four weeks, but almost everyone ended with new ideas and means to approach their specialties. We have agreed to stay in touch by means of a website at UCLA, to upload our many photographs to the site for use by the participants in research and teaching, and to consider gathering again in the future. Already a group of Arab members has formed about conservation issues in the Middle East."
In their studies the participants in the Summer Institute devoted the first week to the study of monuments, and literature on their meaning and uses. They were addressed by Prof. Dr. Lale Duruiz, rector of Bilgi University, the university's dean of Arts and Sciences, Prof. Alan Duben, and Head Librarian Mr. Serdar Katipoglu.
Their readings for this segment focused on works by Alois Riegl, Michel Foucault, Francoise Choay, and H.W. Janson.
In the following days they heard lectures by Margaret Olin on "The Exile Communities of Dura Europos," and by David Hirsch on Internet resources about the Middle East. Dr. Muayyed Said Damerji, former director of the Department of Antiquities in Iraq, lectured on "Iraqi Antiquities Before and After Recent Events."
Toward the end of the first week the topics of study turned to museums, tourism, and travel writing. Excursions included a visit to Istanbul's Archaeological Museum. Derek Gregory of the University of British Columbia lectured one evening on "Imaginative Geographies and the 'War on Terror' in Afghanistan, Palestine, and Iraq." On another evening there was a boat trip on the Bosphorus where John Freely, author of local guide books, led a discussion.
By mid July the syllabus had moved on to archaeology in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, and then ancient Palestine and India. The books and journal articles studied looked at these lands and periods in their own terms, but also at nineteenth and twentieth century European and American perceptions of them, using such works as Frederick N. Bohrer's Orientalism and Visual Culture: Imagining Mesopotamia in Nineteenth-century Europe (New York, 2003).
Zeynep Celik of the New Jersey School of Architecture lectured July 14 on "Patrimony and Preservation in a Colonial Context: The Case of Algeria." In later days she led discussions on the modern as heritage.
In the last week of the program the participants took up preservation policy issues. It was during this week that they were addressed by Dr. Jukka Jokilehto of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, and Dr. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Egypt. Participants also gave presentations on their own work.
The group had one more site visit, to Silahtaraga, a former electricity plant in Istanbul that is in process of being rebuilt as a future museum. After a final dinner at the Anemon Hotel at Galata Tower the participants dispersed to their respective countries. One of the scholar participants commented at the end, "The trip put many of the ideas we had discussed into practice . . . [it was] radically different from a tourist experience." One of the Palestinian participants commented, "it is the first time for me to sit down for such a long time with Israelis -- the occupiers of my homeland Palestine. Rather than confront each other at checkpoints, here we shared a geography and a past. What is needed is a similar joint construction of the past of the Holy Land."
Plans are under consideration to repeat this very successful program next year.
Published: Thursday, September 23, 2004
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