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During Spring Break, the Penn Museum provided a sneak preview of its Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur exhibition to museum specialists who work at museums in Iraq. There were 15 women and 8 men in the group which is in the U.S. for a five-week intensive study tour sponsored by  the  U.S. Department of State through a grant to the Council of American Overseas Research Centers in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of History.

photo by Marguerite Miller

Cultural Heritage Institute for Young Iraqi Specialists:
A Visit to the Penn Museum

Good afternoon. On behalf of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the Department of State, it is an honor for me to be in Philadelphia with the Iraqi museum specialists who are here to meet with their counterparts at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Our Iraqi visitors who traveled from Babylon, Diala, Najaf, and Baghdad to Philadelphia today as a part of the Cultural Heritage Institute for Iraq, will measure their journey in far more than miles. Today, in particular, they have the chance to help their country reconnect with their own vital and rich heritage.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Gerald Margolis, the Deputy Director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and Dr. Richard Zettler, Associate Curator for the Museum's Near East Section, for your partnership in this program.

The five-week Cultural Heritage Institute for Iraq is a partnership with the Council of American Overseas Research Center, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, the Iraq National Museum and the Iraq Ministry of Culture. Dr. Mary Ellen Lane, the Executive Director of the Council of American Overseas Research Centers, is also with us today.

In this country the Iraqi professionals are receiving the training needed to run Iraq's museums and help to preserve artifacts and archaeological sites. The program includes lectures, a two-week practicum, and intensive interaction with U.S. experts and professionals in cultural preservation and archaeology.  The group is going to be in Washington, D.C., Santa Fe, and New York City as well as Philadelphia. 

The need to protect and conserve cultural heritage unites both our countries. Iraq is the site of some of the world's greatest ancient civilizations and the United States is committed to understanding and preserving the world's cultural heritage.

When our Assistant Secretary Patricia Harrison visited Iraq last fall with a State Department delegation, her goal was to learn what would help Iraqis re-engage through educational and cultural exchanges after years of isolation.

This visit of Iraqi museum specialists to Philadelphia, builds on what was started even before that initial trip to Baghdad.  

Our Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs chairs a government interagency group established one year ago to provide both public and private sector support for the rebuilding of the cultural heritage infrastructure of Iraq--a heritage that documents over 10,000 years of the development of civilization.

We began by working with the staff of the Iraq National Museum and responded to their requests for training programs, computers, office furnishings, photographic equipment, and information and communication technology. We look forward to the museum re-opening soon, enabling a new generation of young Iraqis to learn about their culture and connect to their heritage.

 In October, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage in Washington and Ambassador Bremer in Baghdad, joined by Iraqi educators, announced the resumption of the Fulbright Scholarship program. For the first time in 14 years, we now have Iraqi Fulbrighters studying in the United States in the fields of business, health, science, journalism, and law.

Now we are pleased that this group is here. This Cultural Heritage Institute aims to prepare the next generation of Iraqi cultural stewards to build their skills in the field of archaeology and cultural preservation as well as establish partnerships between Iraqi and American institutions and colleagues. 

The Bureau supports exchange programs such as this to promote respect and increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. Each year, our Bureau manages over 30,000 exchanges.  The Cultural Heritage Institute gives us the opportunity to promote respect and understanding between Americans and Iraqis.

Our Bureau has worked for many years, as a strong advocate for developing the capacity of women for leadership positions, so we are particularly delighted to note on International Women's Day that two-thirds of this group is female.

It is fitting that this city is playing a key role in their American journey. Philadelphians have great experience welcoming visitors from abroad. The private, non-profit International Visitors Council of Philadelphia, works with a network of volunteer citizen diplomats, bringing Philadelphians and foreign guests together, linking the city's businesses and institutions with hundreds of rising and established leaders each year.

I am sure they are enjoying their time here in Philadelphia. Thank you so much for hosting us. 

--Susan Borja, M '85,  Office of Academic Programs,
Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State


Photos by Marguerite F. Miller

Several of the Iraqi women near a model of an attendant to royalty, created to show how some of the jewelry would have been worn. 


Two Iraqi visitors admiring the Ram in the Thicket, made of gold, silver, lapis lazuli, copper, shell, red limestone and bitumen, ca. 2650-2550 B.C.--one of the 200 ancient Sumarian treasures from the site of Ur in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq).




  Almanac, Vol. 50, No. 26, March 23, 2004