RAI 2016

We would like to thank the organizing committee of this year’s RAI, who toiled hard to make the 2016 Rencontre a success!

The Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale took place in Philadelphia this year, as a sort of distinguished prelude to the following week’s Democratic National Convention. We had our own share of challenges to deal with, as the city of Philadelphia was hit by both soaring temperatures and a breakdown in public transportation in the week ahead of the Rencontre. Undeterred, the organizers of this year’s Rencontre, Grant Frame, Josh Jeffers, Holly Pittman, Lauren Ristvet, Steve Tinney, and Richard Zettler, managed to turn it into the success we all expected it to be.

Ur in the 21st century

The hosting of the Rencontre in Philadelphia, in cooperation with the Penn Museum, served to commemorate the museum’s special connection to Ur, just as the Rencontre held in Philadelphia in 1988 had commemorated its connection to Nippur. Participants of the Rencontre therefore had the opportunity to enjoy the Museum’s special exhibition Iraq’s Ancient Past: Rediscovering Ur’s Royal Cemetery, detailing Woolley’s work and most famous finds – the ‘Ram in the Thicket’, Puabi’s headdress, and the bull-headed lyre, among others.

The Rencontre itself progressed smoothly, with its usual array of inspiring talks and engaging discussions. Two honorary sessions celebrated the work of pioneering scholars, Åke Sjöberg and Miguel Civil. Their scholarly contributions as well as their more personal impact on colleagues and students were remembered fondly.

On Wednesday the participants were driven from the familiar setting of the University of Pennsylvania to the Bryn Mawr College, for a round of afternoon talks and an evening reception. While the conference participants were thus absorbed, Ann Guinan and Emily Hirshorn organized a workshop entitled ‘Mesopotamian Madness’, aimed at middle and high school teachers, on how to introduce students to the Ancient Near East.

The General Meeting

On Friday the conference finally culminated in the IAA’s annual General Meeting. The winners of the IAA’s various awards were announced, and it is a pleasure to congratulate:

  • Giacomo Benati and Andrew Knapp on receiving the IAA prize for best article published after a completed PhD (see also this post),
  • Elyze Zomer on receiving the IAA subsidy,
  • and Giacomo Benati, Gösta Gabriel, Michela Piccin, Louise Pryke, and Selena Wisnom on receiving the IAA fund for PhD participation.

Congratulations to you all!

The General Meeting also saw the election of two new board members, as Fayssal Abdallah and Wilfred van Soldt stepped down from positions and were replaced by Ahmed Kamil and Jan Tavernier, respectively. Best of luck to the new members!

Van Soldt’s retirement was particularly momentous, since he had played a key role on the IAA board ever since its creation in 2003. Cécile Michel duly commemorated his long service to the association and the Assyriological community in general (see also this post). Since the IAA board felt that no one person could fill van Soldt’s administrative shoes, it was decided that the duties of the IAA Secretary would be redistributed among seven board members, and in particular the two secretaries, Cinzia Pappi and Aaron Schmitt.

But the General Meeting did not consist solely of congratulations, welcomes, and farewells, there were alsorai-2016-picture-2 important
matters to be discuss. Two discussions in particular stand out: whether the name of the IAA should be changed, and how the PhD Prize should be re-established. The General Meeting voted to support the Board’s proposal for the establishment of a new IAA Dissertation Prize in principle; revised regulations will be uploaded to the IAA website before the end of 2016, so that a first IAA Dissertation Prize can be presented at the next RAI in Marburg. Further discussion of the proposed change of the name of the IAA will be launched soon, ahead of debate and vote at the next General Meeting.

Marburg awaits

We look forward to next year’s Rencontre, which is scheduled to take place at the Philipps-Universität Marburg, from July 24th to the 28th. The theme will be ‘Dealing with Antiquity: Past, Present & Future’, focusing on topics such as cultural memory, the present political situation of Iraq, Iran and Syria, as well as the opportunities awarded by fields such as digital humanities. The first circular is already out, whetting our appetite for what looks set to be a stimulating Rencontre!


The program

The abstracts

The minutes of the General meeting


Images courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.