In the Spotlight: Wilfred van Soldt, IAA Secretary

soldtFor this issue’s In the Spotlight, it was naturally decided that the IAA should turn it’s focus on professor Wilfred van Soldt. As you all know, professor Van Soldt hasbeen the IAA Secretary for many years, and is one of the IAA’s founding members. It is with regret that the IAA must announce that Van Soldt’s term as Secretary has come to an end, and that he will not be running for re-election.

You are one of the IAA founding members. Can you tell us something about how the IAA came to be in existence? 

The history of the International Association for Assyriology (IAA) goes back to the middle of the nineties. At the time the only structure was the “Groupe Thureau-Dangin”, chaired by P. Garelli. A number of assyriologists wanted to have more say in the rencontres and Klaas Veenhof formed a Steering Committee that convened during rencontres and that was to lay the foundation for an assyriological association. In 2002 (RAI Leiden) Veenhof asked me to take over from him and during the following year assyriologists were asked if they wanted an association, to which 110 colleagues answered positively.With the help of the notary Baruch Ottervanger we compiled a constitution and in 2003, in London, we were ready to start (Baruch, in his enthusiasm, had paid the notary’s bill). The provisional board of the IAA went through the documents and later that week we had a meeting with the colleagues at the London rencontre. After some discussion we took a vote: a majority was in favor and the IAA was born. After we had finalized the documents it was time for a photo showing the successful beginning of the IAA (see the website).

As we expected, not every assyriologist was enthused about the new structure. Some of the older colleagues did not regard the IAA as something desirable, because they favored the autonomy of the local institutes that organized the rencontres. It was only in Münster (2006) that these colleagues started seeing the usefulness of the IAA and the fact that we could speak with one mouth, for instance, in case assyriological institutes and colleagues were threatened. The last one was Rykle Borger, who came to the IAA table, held his hands as if he was a captive, and said (smiling) “Ich ergebe mich”.

The first two years we started building up the IAA and only later we would have an election of the board members and who of them would be president, secretary, and treasurer. The first few years I did most of the work, and I was president and secretary at the same time, but in Chicago (2005) we decided that it was time for elections. Then Jack Sasson became our first real president and I remained secretary. That was in line with the constitution, according to which the IAA had its base in Leiden, and the office was (and is) there.

What do you hope the next Secretary will be for the IAA?

The new secretary will have to do many different tasks, such as the meetings, the supervision of the membership administration, the website, and the newsletter. Also, the prizes, the honorary council, and the contact with the Chamber of Commerce and the tax office.

What did you enjoy most about being a part of the IAA?

What I liked best was the contact with the colleagues. Especially during the rencontres I was often sitting behind the IAA table and I got to know many colleagues that otherwise I would not have met.

Naturally, there were things that I could have done without, but they are not worth being mentioned here.

Can you tell us something about the Rencontres you’ve visited, and the ones you have organized?

Since 2002 I have attended every rencontre. If we also count the one in Philadelphia I went to fifteen rencontres. It was not always easy to combine sitting at the IAA table and to go to lectures, but in recent years a younger colleague took over the IAA part.

I enjoyed all the rencontres that I attended, but some of them stand out in my memory, mainly because of their location: South Africa (2004, a bit of an adventure), Moscow and Saint Petersburg (2007, very special), and Warsaw (2014).

Anyone who has organized a rencontre can tell about the pressure and endless problems that need to be solved. But in the end it is a very satisfactory experience, not in the least because of the good atmosphere during the congress. I helped organizing a recontre (1993), and I organized two (2002 and 2012), and every time I enjoyed it very much.

Do you think the IAA should change in the future, and in what way?

Yes, I think that the IAA should be a platform not only for assyriologists and archaeologists, it should also be more aware of the political situation in the countries whose ancient culture we study. It is therefore appropiate that our president has started to add new pages to our website concerning the situation in the Near East.

Since the IAA was founded in 2003, the IAA has evolved, for instance, there are more contests now for (young)scholars to participate in. What do you think was an important change?

The idea to have prizes came up about six years ago. It was mainly due to our former president Piotr Michalowski that a number of prizes for younger colleagues were launched. At the beginning the number of applicants was rather high and their evaluation cost the committees much time, but later the enthusiasm waned. Now a new dissertation prize is on its way and the board hopes to start with it in the coming year.

What part of the IAA do you feel strongly about, and what is your vision for it?

I actually feel strongly about the IAA as a whole. I think that by now we have proven its right to exist and to represent the assyriological and archaeological community. In recent years our members have become more involved and the general meetings tend to be more lively. I hope that this tendency will get stronger. It is only through the participation of our members that we can make the IAA a useful tool for anyone who is interested in the Ancient Near East and its many antiquities.