Michael Degerald: Heritage, archives, and state power. Digital traces of Iraq’s cultural and political history in state media and publications.

Welcome to a K3 seminar with  Michael Degerald, Visiting Researcher, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University

The title of the talk is:

Heritage, archives, and state power: Digital traces of Iraq’s cultural and political history in state media and publications.

It will take place on Wednesday, September 4 at 10.15-12.00 in The K3 Open Studio, NIC 0541, Niagara.

Below you will find an abstract for the talk.

During the course of my dissertation research, I made pdf copies of dozens of Arabic magazines, books, and journals published by the Iraqi state. With the help of a grant from the Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington, I constructed a digital archive to make these texts available to others to facilitate research. These sources have value for modern Iraqi history, but yet more lurks under the surface. These publications speak to a variety of topics and were part of a large scale, ‘pre-digital’ attempt to shift Iraqi and international public opinion. While they are clearly part of Iraqi cultural heritage, they can be quite racist and toxic in their rhetoric and represent the work of a government many Iraqis would understandably like to forget.

In addition to the discourses they contain, the texts themselves have stamps and markings that represent complex geographies of power traversed by the books from their publication to their various locations in collections outside of Iraq. The USA acquired many such publications for its research libraries, but Iraq also sponsored their dissemination, with many bearing stamps that say they were gifts from the Iraqi government. Digging into the US acquisitions finds some of them related to international wheat sales and book acquisitions under PL-480, shedding light on far more than seemingly obscure books. The answer of just how those books came to the USA speaks to trends shaping Middle Eastern studies, postcolonial development, and our ability to study media history and the history of the modern Middle East most broadly. What does it mean to work with texts that were manipulated by multiple states for their own ends? And where do I fit, as an outsider studying Iraq?

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