November 23, 2006

 

Dr. Kathryn Slanski

"Kathryn Slanski is an Assyriologist and a lecturer in the department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations [at Yale University] whose research in ancient Mesopotamia dovetails with her interest in the modern Middle East. ... As looters search only for precious objects, they destroy the physical place in which those objects are found; they search for things which will bring them cash, but also destroy the archaeological record so valuable to scholars. 'That looks very bad for future understanding of our past,' Slanski said. 'We will get some of the objects back, but we will never be able to reconstruct how they looked, the relationship in which they lie with other objects around them.' Slanski and her colleagues joke that when the war is over, they will go to Iraq and excavate the dirt that the looters threw to the side, but, as Slanski said, 'the way things are now, the future looks pretty black.' As a self-proclaimed eternal optimist, however, Slanski is not content simply to rest her feet on a soapbox; her dark clothing and soft voice hide her willingness to get her hands dirty."

"In the summer of 2004, she and her husband, Eckart Frahm, a professor in Assyriology—whom she met at an Annual International Assyriologists Conference in 2000—went to Amman, Jordan, with a few colleagues on a three-million-dollar USAID grant. [this was the USAID Iraq-HEAD project, headquartered at Stony Brook University] They gave daily lectures to the 56 Iraqi professors and graduate students who came, provided them with scanned literature and images they didn’t have access to, and invested in building construction and computer equipment. ... At the end of the program, Slanski and Frahm were optimistic that the following summer, they’d be able to bring the most promising students to study abroad at Yale. The second summer program never happened. As the situation in Iraq worsened, the State Department pulled their funding and diverted all of it to security; it also became impossible for the Iraqi students to leave their own country. 'It was too dangerous for these Iraqis to be associated with us,' Slanski said. Her voice was quiet as she spoke of her students, her nose a little red. She hasn’t heard from them in over a year. 'I’m heartbroken when I think about them. They’re not the only individuals in Iraq, but they’re the ones I know,' she said. 'And statistically, some of them have died. They would have to have died.' Thousands of archaeological sites are destroyed on a daily basis; all academics who could have left Iraq have done so because of threats to their lives and their families.”

Reference
• L. Yao, "War Stories. Dodging bullets or trading barbs, Yalies throw themselves into the Iraq war," in The Yale Herald (Connecticut), 42, 11 (November 16, 2006)



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