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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ernst Herzfeld's Excavation of Samarra - Online!

Series 7: Records of Samarra Expeditions is now fully digitized, cataloged and online thanks to funding from the Leon Levy Foundation, and cataloger extraordinaire: Xavier Courouble!  Below is a description of the Ernst Herzfeld's Samarra materials written by Thomas Leisten, as well as a final report by Xavier, documenting his cataloging efforts for a project of this scope.

Excavation of Sāmarrā (Iraq): Typological Study of Painted Decoration on Wood, 1910-1946
"Two campaigns of excavation at Samarra in Iraq, carried out by Ernst Herzfeld on behalf of the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin between the years 1911 and 1913 mark the beginning of large-scale archaeological research on Islamic antiquities. During this time, Herzfeld was supported for brief periods by the swiss architect Samuel Guyer, Commander von Ludloff, various technical assistants, and finally Friedrich Sarre, who was the director of the Islamic department at the museum and initiator of the expedition. For most of the time, however, all tasks that today would be divided among a team of archaeologists rested solely on Herzfeld's shoulders: coordinating hundreds of workmen at various sites, measuring buildings, drawing architecture and objects, and cataloging finds, but also negociating with local authorities who were often uncooperative."

Excavation of Sāmarrā (Iraq): Rubbing of Graffiti Found in House IX
"Still working at a time when the success of a venture such as the Samarra expedition was measured by its spectacular finds in both architecture and precious objects, the immense responsibility for bringing this expedition through the unexplored territories of Islamic archaeology to a successful conclusion presented an enormous physical and psychological challenge. In an effort that from the perspective of modern archaeology must be called Herculean, he excavated and examined nineteen sites [Great Mosque of al-Mutawakkil, Congregational Mosque of Madinat al-Mutawakkiliyya, Shiite Shrine Complex, Qubbat al-Ṣulaibiyya; palaces of Balkuwārā, Ṣūr ʿĪṣā, and the Qaṣr al-ʿĀshiq; the Cemetery at Shabbat al-Hawā; Mausoleum of Imām al-Dūr; Tall al-ʿAlīq; Ḥarba Bridge and finally the residential architecture at al-Quraina, al-Qāṭūn, al-Jubairiyya, and west of Ṣūr ʿĪṣā, and the baths] and collected a stupendous corpus of material, one that in many respects still forms the foundation for our knowledge of the city of Samarra and ʾAbbāsid art in the 3rd/9th centuries. What is astonishing is that Herzfeld himself considered his achievements during the first campaign in Samarra to be merely a dress rehearsal for the more ambitious second campaign which focused on the Dār al-Khilāfa." [Leisten, Thomas, 2003: "Excavation of Samarra, v. I. Architecture : Final report of the first campaign 1910-1912. Verlag Philipp von Zabern, Mainz am Rhein, 2003. Preface, p.IX."]

Draft of Herzfeld Letter Requesting a Position as Assistant on an Expedition in Babylonia or Assyria, 1906Xavier's final report: In October and November 2009, the cataloging of the Ernst Herzfeld Papers, Series 5: Drawings and Maps proved to be a challenge difficult to meet in the terms that were set contractually. However it gave us a better understanding how to handle the following contract, Ernst Herzfeld Papers, Series 7: Records of Samarra Expeditions.

The last four months I worked on this project have been quite rewarding and today I may say with confidence that we have met the challenge of this collection as well as providing a much better environment for the collection to be viewed and researched online by an expanding audience.

In terms of cataloging, we have taken full advantage of the SIRIS platform in order to display how interconnected the Herzfeld materials are. We also produced records which respect cataloging procedure and nomenclature. Authority Headings have been used with great care and corrected if necessary. Multiple keywords and references have been applied throughout the project in order to facilitate the access online.

Xavier Courouble with Ernst Herzfeld Squeeze
Our working relationship with SIRIS has expanded in several ways: first, today we have more control of the images we want to upload; second, we have initiated the use of geospatial references for Smithsonian catalog records (still in early stage); finally we have revisited our Image Gallery display pages with the consequence that a new set of pages will be available very soon as well as a set of access pages for the Herzfeld collection.

Interaction with our curatorial department has not yet demonstrated the full potential of such collaboration but some progress has been made: Alex Nagel has taken great interest and has assisted on several occasion in the development of the collection content; Louise Cort has welcomed a discussion on terminology related to ceramics/pottery; Massumeh Farhad has not only taken the time to have an overview of the work accomplished but has accepted to provide small funding in order to finish the cataloging of the Samarra photographs. She has also mentioned the opportunity to promote our work on this specific collection during a coming symposium on Islamic Art to be held in late October 2010 at our museum. Finally in the works possible SIRIS cross searching center training for our FSg curatorial staff.

Enhancing the online access to the Archives collections has also been taken quite seriously by addressing some technical issues with our museum website, by using blogs, by editing Wikipedia entries, by moving on to create a video, as well as creating these Image Gallery pages.

Finally one last task we hope may be integrated in any cataloging project is a report which provides a series of reports and graphs in order to better assess the impact we have when such cataloging projects are correctly funded. Google Analytics, SIRIS reports, are great tools to evaluate what we are doing as well as what can be done.

Excavation of Sāmarrā (Iraq): The Modern City of Sāmarrā with Excavation Site in the Foreground, 1911-1946

-Xavier Courouble, Contract Cataloger (Extraordinaire)

Rachael Cristine Woody
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives

1 comment:

  1. 5 days later this post has gone viral in the academic community, helping us to spread the word that these materials are available for public consumption. Check out these articles!

    1. Announced by the Ancient World Online by Charles Jones of NYU:

    2. A Samarra photograph used to illustrate a piece in The New York Times (both online and in print):