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October 20, 2020, 10:48 pm UTC    
September 25, 2020 08:32AM
From Andrew George:

In June 2020 SOAS closed at short notice many low-recruiting
undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. The closures were a
preliminary to a brutal downsizing of the university’s staff, which
came later in the summer. The measures followed several successive
years of financial deficit and the prediction of a large shortfall in
student-fee income consequent upon the impact of Covid-19 on student
recruitment. Deep and immediate cuts in expenditure were required
across the whole range of the School’s activities to safeguard its

The cuts hit language study hard. Most Asian and African languages
survive only in much reduced form, as minor options of one or, at
most, two years’ duration. The outcome for Ancient Near Eastern
Studies could not have been worse. Both undergraduate and postgraduate
programmes were closed to new students. After the current students
graduate in 2022, teaching in Sumerian and Hittite will cease
altogether. Akkadian, if it survives at all, will become a minor
option of one year’s duration only. Other dead Asian languages have
also closed, notably Syriac, Avestan and Pahlavi; only Sanskrit

The closing of the Ancient Near Eastern Studies programmes made their
teachers effectively redundant. As a consequence Andrew George,
Professor of Babylonian, was obliged to volunteer for severance and
left SOAS in August. Mark Weeden, Senior Lecturer in Ancient Near
Eastern Studies, remains in post but will soon be unable to teach the
subjects for which he was appointed. Jana Matuszak, midway through a
fixed-term lectureship funded by the Leverhulme Trust, will not
continue in post beyond the end of that term. Two postdoctoral
fellows, Sam Mirelman and Nadia Ait Said-Ghanem, both funded by the
British Academy, remain to see out their fixed terms. When the last of
these four colleagues departs, a research cluster which has had an
unusually prominent international impact over many decades will exist
no more. Assyriology at SOAS will then follow the teaching of Ancient
Near Eastern Studies into extinction.

The demise of Assyriology at SOAS comes seventy-two years after its
initiation, which was marked by the appointment of Sidney Smith to a
professorship in Semitic languages in 1948. Smith was followed by C.
J. Gadd, H. W. F. Saggs, D. J. Wiseman and David Hawkins, all of them
Fellows of the British Academy. Others who helped with the teaching of
Ancient Near Eastern Studies at SOAS during the last half century were
Alan Millard, Nicholas Postgate, Martin J. Selman, Johanna Firbank,
Daniel Schwemer, Cornelia Wunsch, Fran Reynolds, Frans van Koppen,
Marie-Christine Ludwig, Martin Worthington, Luis Siddall and
Christopher Metcalf. Other Assyriologists whose research has been
hosted at SOAS in the last two decades include Stefan Maul, Farouk
Al-Rawi, Yasuyuki Mitsuma, Jeanette Fincke, Annunziata Rositani, Amir
Gilan and Abather Saadoon.

The destruction of Ancient Near Eastern Studies at SOAS has more than
local ramifications. It reduces national teaching provision by one
third. It places British research capacity in Assyriology at similar
risk. It is one more indication that unendowed posts in small subjects
are now extremely vulnerable in British universities, especially when
they are exposed to the full force of market economics.

Andrew George
Nadia Ait Said-Ghanem
Jana Matuszak
Sam Mirelman
Mark Weeden


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The end of Assyriology at SOAS (University of London)

Hermione September 25, 2020 08:32AM

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