Changing the name of the IAA

At the General Meeting of the IAA in 2016, it was proposed by the Board that the Association should change its name to the ‘International Association of Assyriology and Mesopotamian Archeology’, or IAAMA for short. As stated by the Board of the IAA, Near Eastern Archaeology has always formed an integral part of the IAA’s remit, but this is not reflected in its name.

The Board sought to rectify this in 2016, but it quickly became clear that the issue had to be postponed until the next General Meeting, at the RAI in Marburg, in order to allow for proxy voting by those members who were unable to participate in person.

IMPORTANT: If you cannot attend the General Meeting in 2017, you can post your opinion on the official website, and / or submit a proxy vote!

Why ‘Mesopotamian Archeology’?

The motivation for the name change is set out here, but in short, the new name is intended to make it clear that the Association wishes to include Near Eastern archaeologists as well as Assyriologists.

The new name would naturally lead to new delimitations of the scholarly field covered by the Association. Most notably, the Board has chosen to propose the addition ‘Mesopotamian Archeology’, rather than for example ‘Ancient Near East Archeology’ (IAANEA). ‘“Near Eastern Archaeology”’, writes the Board, ‘is much wider in scope, both chronologically and geographically, encompassing periods and regions that are not normally covered by the Association’s members (most notably prehistory, as well as the Arabian peninsula, the Caucasus and regions further east, etc.). Essentially, we are dealing with the archaeology of what have sometimes been termed ‘cuneiform cultures’.

Costs and advantages

The cost of the name change is estimated to be around € 500, which would be the cost of hiring a notary to ratify the change. However, this would also allow the Association to make other minor changes to the constitution, which do not in themselves justify the cost.

On the other hand, the Board believes that the name change would also have a series of advantages. Archeological colleagues feel excluded by the current name of the Association.

It should be noted that the archeological congress ICAANE is a conference only, not an association of members such as the IAA. If the Association wishes to increase its membership, the name change would be an easy way to widen its scope.

Another reason why the new name would be important is the role of the Association when it acts as a representative body for our discipline in an international context, particularly with regard to the ongoing cultural heritage crisis in Iraq and Syria. The new name would clarify that the Association speaks on behalf of both philologists and archaeologists in its public statements.

Finally, the Board argues that the change will help to break down the boundary between disciplines, by actively encouraging the interdisciplinary collaboration between archaeologists and Assyriologists.

Discussion of the proposal

The Board encourages all the members of the Association to contribute their opinion ahead of the General Meeting in July. This can be done by leaving a reply at the Association’s website here. Note that the discussion on the website is moderated: uncivil or irrelevant comments will not be approved. Also, note that discussion outside (for example, on private social media accounts) the website will not be included in the final consideration. So, if you want to have your voice heard, post your opinion there!

There is already a lively discussion on the website. Some members have posted only short notes of agreement. Others have posted longer criticisms of the proposal, or replies against those criticisms. By my reckoning, there seem to be four counter-arguments presented against the proposal.

  1. Walther Sallaberger has argued that the word ‘Assyriology’ is to be preferred exactly because, in its rather old-fashioned sense, it includes not only the ‘study of Assyria’ but also Sumerology, Hittitology, and Archeology. The name change would cause confusion, since ‘“Assyriology and Mesopotamian Archaeology” is one very broad and one very specific term combined’. Jack Sasson agrees, stating that ‘Actually, by almost all definitions, “Assyriology” includes ANE/Mesop. Arch. (Even the Wikipedia, follows suit!) So the addition is redundant.’ However, archeologists such as Mirko Novák disagree, arguing that few archaeologists would consider themselves assyriologists, ‘not even in the most old-fashioned and broadest sense’.
  2. Max Gander questions whether the estimated cost of € 500 is realistic: while it may cover the cost of an official, notarial name change, it does not include the design of a new logo or the updating of the Association’s webpage. Even if such costs are of a much smaller scale, they should be included in the official estimate.
  3. Other members, such as Michael Streck and Sabina Franke, agree with the basic sentiment of the proposal, but disagree with the choice of the term ‘Mesopotamian Archeology’. A broader term, such as ‘International Studies of Ancient Near Eastern Studies’ would more explicitly include subfields such as Hittitology. Martin Worthington agrees, but for more aesthetic reasons, finding the proposed name ‘somewhat unwieldy’, suggesting instead ‘International Association for Mesopotamian Studies’.
  4. Finally, some members argue that the basic premise of the proposal is mistaken, and that they do not wish to extend the Association’s membership to include archeologists, preferring the Association’s current smaller and perhaps more cohesive size. Alfonso Archi and David Owen in particular contrast the size of the Rencontre and larger conferences such as ICAANE or ASOR, arguing that the latter become ‘unwieldy’ and ‘impersonal’. In contrast, argues Owen, Rencontres ‘are relatively small, cordial, and intimate’.

These arguments will surely contribute to a lively discussion at the General Meeting. Once more: If you wish to add new points to this discussion, remember to post your opinion to the official website! And remember to vote by proxy if you cannot attend at the General Meeting in person.