Yale leads work on digital collections in the Middle East


Yale’s Council on Middle East Studies is developing a range of projects, programs, and initiatives to further strengthen Yale’s presence in the Middle East and open new avenues of research, teaching, and public outreach.

In particular, there are two projects in the works that will improve access to Yale’s extensive and diverse collections of Islamic and Middle Eastern art, artifacts, books, and manuscripts. “Dura-Europos, Syria: Loss and Recovery from Antiquity to Modernity” is a digital project that will draw on Yale’s collection of artifacts from the ancient city of Dura-Europos to allow people to explore an important archeological and cultural site made inaccessible by conflict. The project is a partnership between the council, faculty in the Departments of History of Art and Computer Science, and curators and conservators at the Yale University Art Gallery and the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage at Yale’s West Campus. 

“We’ve been thinking about ways we can intervene in Syria,” said Kishwar Rizvi, professor of the history of art at Yale. “We don’t have a field site there, but we have this incredible collection from Dura-Europos that is evidence of the site’s rich history as multi-cultural crossroads where temples existed alongside churches and synagogues. The project will share this amazing resource with the public and make it available for research and teaching.”

“Visual Resources of the Middle East at Yale,” a second digital project, is an open-access database of historical prints, photograph, paintings, and other materials held at the university’s museums and libraries, ranging from medieval Qur’an manuscripts to contemporary photography.   

The council is partnering with the Yale Program for the Study on Anti-Semitism (YPSA) to launch a campus-wide discussion in spring 2019 on the study of Muslims, Jews, and Christians in the Middle East. It is also helping to launch the YPSA’s Iranian Jewish Archives, a collection of testimonies by members of Iran’s Jewish community in diaspora that seeks to illuminate the status of minorities and human rights in Iran and preserves memories from the Middle East’s oldest and last-remaining Jewish community outside of Israel.

Rizvi, whose current research includes a study of contemporary museums in the Arab states on the Persian Gulf, has partnered with the Smithsonian Institution, on The Global Museum, an international research project investigating the ways in which museums shape national identity and spark social change. The project will include new undergraduate courses co-taught with faculty and curators at Yale and the Smithsonian museums, as well as international symposia and workshops.