Pursuing research in the face of war

Pursuing research in the face of war

Rihana Suliman

Rihana Suliman

Chevening British Library fellow, 2018

I read about Chevening British Library Fellowship opportunity within the Endangered Archive Programme (EAP) last year and decided to apply.

At the time, I held the post of assistant professor at Damascus University in the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistic. Some of my duties were to deliver lectures on the undergraduate schemes of study, to assess students’ coursework, to set and mark examinations and provide constructive and comprehensive feedback to students. Providing pastoral support, attending departmental and faculty meetings and carrying out administrative tasks were also part of my duties.

Yet, for me there was an important missing ingredient – it was to belong to, and become part of, an active research community.

It was due to the circumstances of war in Syria and the sanctions imposed on the country that the possibility of conducting research was almost completely ruled out – especially for academics of English literature and other foreign languages.

I, therefore, was motivated to apply to this fellowship because it will give me a chance to be part of the research community both at the British Library and at Chevening. Most importantly, this one-year fellowship will impact positively on my professional, academic and personal growth.

The EAP: To protect through preservation

‘To protect through preservation’ was one of the very first phrases that encouraged me to know more about the Endangered Archive Programme.

My initial plan was to conduct a bit of a research in order to explore the EAP’s website and mission, along with its past and future projects.

What I thought would take a maximum of two hours of browsing the net ended up to be weeks-long exploration of this fascinating project. I immediately recognised the uniqueness of the EAP and the brilliance of its approach. It digitizes and preserves endangered material yet it keeps the archival material in its place of origin.

The EAP has so far supported over 350 projects in 90 countries worldwide and one of its plans at the moment is to strengthen its activities in the Middle East and North Africa.

My fellowship project focuses on promoting the EAP in the Middle East and North Africa, researching the archival collections in these areas, engaging with archival experts locally and internationally, and developing a targeted engagement strategy and outreach programme.

I have translated the EAP brochure into Arabic. This will help introduce communities in the Middle East and North Africa to the programme because it is made more accessible to them in their native language, and it will enable the EAP to engage with communities associated with endangered archives in these areas, developing targeted plans for future projects.

Productive, inspiring, exciting, and lucky.

The first months of my fellowship have been full of inspiring and thought-provoking engagements within the Chevening community, the Endangered Archives Programme, the British Library, and London.

I had the pleasure of attending the opening of the Library’s photographic exhibition titled: ‘Beyond Timbuktu: Preserving the Manuscripts of Djenné, Mali’, which is a digitisation project funded by the EAP. This project in the town of Djenné has preserved over 150,000 images and a collection of 8,300 manuscripts making a copy of them available online.

I have also visited other exhibitions in the Library such as ‘Treasures of the British Library’ and the ‘Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War’, in addition to attending numerous lectures and workshops. 

If I am to describe my experience so far, I would use words such as super productive, hugely inspiring, and very exciting. But truth is that I should also add one more word: lucky.

I am very lucky indeed to be working under the supervision of Jody Butterworth who is the curator of the Endangered Archives Programme. Jody has not only made me feel home right from the moment I arrived in London, but she has also been very supportive and encouraging. Her wonderful insight has been such that she booked me places in conferences and symposiums long before my arrival.

I, therefore, attended the V&A conference on Middle Eastern Crafts: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow which proved a fantastic opportunity for me to meet and network with researchers from all over the world but more specifically from the Middle East and North Africa.

I’ll also be attending other conferences and symposiums throughout the year which is just a small showcase of the support and encouragement I receive on a daily basis.   

1,800 scholars and fellows from over 160 countries at Chevening

One of the most memorable events so far was the Chevening Orientation day.

This event brought together scholars and fellows from Chevening’s Scholarship and Fellowship programmes for a day of inspirational talks, unlimited networking possibilities, and fun.

It was amazing to feel the energy of 1,800 scholars coming from over 160 countries and territories around the world.

I am looking forward to the many accomplishments to be made in the year ahead.

Chevening Orientation


For more information about the Chevening British Library Fellowship including themes and application dates, please visit the programme page here.

Photo of Rihana Suliman by Sam Lane/British Library

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