Good Future Prospects for Yemeni-US Scholarly Cooperation [Archives:1998/38/Interview]

September 21 1998

Ms. Marta Colburn arrived in Yemen as Resident Director of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies in January, along with her husband and a four-and-a-half year old son. However, neither she nor her husband are new to Yemen.
Colburn worked here from 1984 to 1989, and her husband was a Peace Corps volunteer during 1987-89. During the 1980s, she worked for a number of development agencies and spent her last two and a half years as the Deputy Director of Oxfam, UK.
When she left Yemen she went back to university and completed her M.A. in Political Science at Portland State University in Oregon, and began working as the Outreach Co-ordinator and later the Associate Director of the University’s Middle East Studies Center. During her time at PSU, Colburn was fortunate to keep in contact with Yemen via friends and many Yemeni students who studied at PSU.

Ismail Al-Ghabiry of Yemen Times interviewed Ms. Colburn, and filed the following excerpts.
Q: What are the tasks of your institute, and when was it established?
A: AIYS was established in 1978, and we are currently entering our 20th year of activity here in Yemen. Our mission is to promote scholarship on Yemen. This includes supporting the work of scholars from America and the West who study Yemen, as well as Yemeni scholars who study their own history, culture and society.
Q: How many researchers, associated with your institute, come to Yemen every year?
A: Annually we have between 50 and 75 researchers who come to Yemen studying a wide range of subjects.
Q: What usually are the purposes of their visits?
A: These scholars come to further their own research on various aspects of Yemen’s culture and heritage and to help audiences outside of Yemen understand the beauty and significance of Yemen throughout history and in contemporary times.
These scholars and students are roughly divided into two groups, those who come with archeological teams (so far this year we have had over 35 individuals associated with five archeological projects) and those in the humanities and social sciences, many of whom combine their research with Arabic Language studies.
Those in the humanities study history, politics, economics, anthropology, geography, linguistics, medieval history and Arab literature. In the sciences we’ve also had a few over the years studying geology, botany, archeobotany, and paleontology.
Q: Do they do any field studies?
A: Whether or not they do field work depends on the nature of their research. The work of the archeologist is, of course, primarily in the field, where their work is assisted by Yemeni archeologists from the General Organization for Antiquities, Museums and Manuscripts (GOAMM).
Also many of the individual scholars conduct much of their research in the field. Recent examples of this include: Dr. Dale Lightfoot, Associate Professor of Geography, Oklahoma State University, who was studying the history and ecology of subterranean irrigation in Yemen, and Flagg Miller, Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Anthropology University of Michigan, who was studying the political rhetoric of poetry in Yafi. At the conclusion of the field work, both researchers gave public lectures at AIYS as part of AIYS’s educational activities. All researchers who do not work with GOAMM work closely in co-operation with the Yemeni Center for Research and Studies.
Q: How many researches were prepared on Yemen, since the establishment of your institute?
A: Hundreds of researchers have had contact with AIYS over the course of its history.
Q: What facilities, if any, does the AIYS offer to Yemeni researchers, both here and in the US?
A: AIYS has had a long-standing history of supporting Yemeni researchers in their work, including: fellowships for their research here in Yemen (unfortunately, we are unable to offer scholarships to America), making our library available for local scholars and students; translation of research from the west on Yemen into Arabic; and providing advice and referral services.
Q: How many books on Yemen has the AIYS published, both in Arabic and English?
A: AIYS has published many books on Yemen during its history as well as 20 years of publishing a regular newsletter which is now called ” Yemen Update.” This bulletin has a worldwide distribution. Articles featured in it will soon be available on the world wide web site.
We are currently distributing three new books in Arabic in our Yemen Research in the fields of Political Science, Anthropology, and on the situation of Women in Yemen (see titles below). This series takes research in English and translates it into Arabic thus making this scholarship accessible to non-English speaking researchers.
We also sell a number of other books in English including: My Journey through Arhab and Hashid by Eduard Glaser, translated by David Warburton, two biographies – one in the social sciences by Thomas Stevenson and one on Women in Yemen by Jake Buringa – and a 1981 publication Yemeni Agriculture and Economic Change by Richard Tutwiler and Sheila Carapico. In addition, AIYS distributes a number of other publications including the newly released Ancient map of Yemen by Christian Robin and Ueli Brunner.
Q: What are their titles and subject matter?
A: The titles in the Yemeni Research Series are: Vol. 1 is Al-Tahwulat Al-Seyasiyah fi Al-Yemen, Vol 2 Al-Yemen kama Yarah Al-Akhr, and Vol 3 Surat Al-Mar’a Al-Yemaniah fi Al-Dderasat Al-Gharbeyah.
Q: What future publications are in the pipeline?
A: Currently, we are preparing two more books in the Yemen Research Series which will be in the fields of medieval studies and archeology. Within a few weeks we are releasing a book co-published with the Center for French Studies by Qadi Yahya Al-Ansi entitled Ma’alim Al-zira’a fi Al-Yemen.
In the near future we will be publishing two additional books in our translation series. They are: Visits and Customs: The visit to the Tomb of Prophet Hud, by Sheikh Abdalqadir Mohammed Al-Sabban (published in Arabic and English) translation by Linda Boxberger. City of divine and Earthly Joys: A description of Sanaa by Sayyid Jamal-u-Din Ali ibn Abdullah ibn Al-Qasim ibn Al-Mu’ayyadi Bi’llah Mohammed ibn Al-Qasim ibn Mohammed Al-Shahari (published in English), translated by Tim Mackintosh-Smith.
We also have another joint publication with the French Center we hope to release in the next year describing the Dhouran Mosque Complex in the Dhamar, which was badly damaged by the 1982 earthquake. This publication project is by Bruce Paluck (my husband) and Raya Saggar (an Iraqi-French researcher).
Q: Have you organized any workshops, seminars, etc? And, if so, what were their topics?
A: AIYS has been involved with a number of seminars and conferences over the years, in Yemen and outside. This year at the beginning of March, AIYS co-sponsored and was an active participant in planning the ” Fourth International Conference on the Civilizations of Ancient Yemen.” The conference had over 150 individuals attending, including 60 visiting international scholars. During the five days of proceedings there were fifty papers presented. During the conference, three AIYS members were given awards by the Yemeni government honoring their contributions to Yemeni Archeology.
Q: What other events are planned for the future?
A: We currently have no dates for further conferences, but we hope that in the near future, in conjunction with Dr. Yousef Abdullah of GOAMM, we will have the opportunity to assist in organizing a conference on Islamic archeology in Yemen.
Q: With which US body, official or otherwise, is the AIYS associated?
A: AIYS is a non-profit, non-governmental organization although we receive significant support from the US Department of Education and the United States Information Service. We also have a number of important corporate sponsors including the Yemen Hunt Oil Co. In addition to over 35 universities and museums that are institutional members of our organizations, we have many including the Middle East Studies Association of North America.
Q: What are the fields of research that are not covered by the AIYS, and why?
A: AIYS researchers are active in all scholarly fields. And interestingly Yemen today is one of the accessible countries in the Middle East for scholarship due to the pluralization and democratization process and the value that Yemenis place on their history and their role in contemporary times.
We feel that this atmosphere of scholarship will lead to an increased number of scholars interested in Yemen and our ability to further advance Yemeni scholarship.
Q: Do you have any last comment?
A: I would like to say what a pleasure it is to have the Yemen Times feature our organization. AIYS is very lucky to have had long and co-operative relationships with Yemeni scholars, and with the Yemeni institutions of YCRS and GOAMM. We are always trying to inform the general Yemeni population about our work, to seek new ways to serve Yemeni society with the scholarship our researchers produce and to assist in whatever way we can Yemeni scholars and students to better understand their heritage, their present and their future.
For more information on AIYS check out its website at:
http: //