News from our Former Travel Grant Recipients

Every year, CBRL awards postgraduate travel grants to develop the next generation of researchers. Since 2016, changes and restrictions to CBRL’s core British Academy funding mean that this cannot be used towards postgraduate projects. Instead, CBRL has continued this important part of its activity thanks to the generosity of our members and friends.

We've spoken to a few of the travel grant recipients from the last couple of years - read on to find out more about the fascinating field trip projects they've been undertaking. 

We are urgently seeking funds to continue the CBRL Travel Grant scheme in 2018 - our target is to fund five young researchers and to do this, we need to raise £4,000. Your support in helping us reach this target and continue this research programme is essential. It's easy to donate online or by post - donations of all sizes will be gratefully received. 

Thank you to all CBRL's members and friends for your continued support of this important part of CBRL's activity

  Representing the subaltern: popular intellectuals of the Syrian revolution, 2011-2017

  Research on Syrian diaspora with field work in Lebanon and Turkey, 2017

  Adélie Chevée - School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Department of Politics and International Studies,   PhD student

Adélie explored changes in the Syrian public sphere by looking at the transformation of one intellectual practice: writing opinion articles in print. An understudied phenomenon of the Syrian conflict is the explosion of the number of ‘traditional’ media launched at the local level, in the form of print leaflets, pamphlets, newspapers and magazines.

Why do Syrians keep writing and printing newspapers in the age of blogs and Facebook amid the difficult conditions of war, revolution and exile? Based on fieldwork in Lebanon and Turkey, this research drew an in-depth case study of Syria’s intellectual field and aimed at understanding the role of popular Syrian intellectuals in the formation of a new generation of Arab intellectuals since the 2011 uprisings.

Why was a field trip vital to enrich your research?

During this trip I made multiple interviews with Syrian journalists and collected observations when visiting the editorial offices of Syrian independent newspapers and intellectual forums, such as Souriatna, Enab Baladi and Al-Jumhuriya. These data are invaluable for writing a discourse analysis and a qualitative case-study of the Syrian intellectual field as it developed in Istanbul and Gaziantep after 2011.

What was the most interesting academic aspect of your field trip research?

At Hacettepe University (Ankara), I participated in the doctoral workshop of the International Symposium on Migration in Turkey (Programme: I also received support from the editors of CBRL journal, Contemporary Levant - I wrote and published a book review for this journal: "The intellectual and the people in Egyptian literature and culture: Amāra and the 2011 revolution (2014)." Contemporary Levant, 2(2), pp. 133–134.

Did the field trip uncover any surprising findings?

I discovered that Syrian independent newspapers receive financial support from various European development agencies, such as the French CFI. Following these findings, I will include in my research an analysis of the impact of development on the Syrian public sphere.

What was the highlight/ most memorable aspect of your travel experience?

Whilst in Istanbul I gave a talk with ffiliated to the Institut Français d’Etudes Anatoliennes in Istanbul, I gave a talk entitled 'Understanding Jumhuriya from Istanbul: an intervention in the Syrian intellectual dispute' (18 May 2017). The highlight of this event was the attendance of the editors of Al-Jumhuriya¸ Karam Nachar, Yassin Swehat and Yassin al-Haj Saleh. We had an in-depth exchange about my work, where they critically engaged with and reflect on my findings. This practice of including your subjects of research in the moment of theory-construction and restitution is an important aspect of my research ethics. Going to Gaziantep and Istanbul to meet directly with Syrian journalists and writers was a fantastic opportunity to collect new data that will make my research stand out!



  Recipient of the Sam Lieu Travel Award

  The Coalescence of the Displaced: Syrian Civil Society Beyond Borders

  Field work in Lebanon, 2017

  Tamara al Om - University of St Andrews, PhD Student

  The Centre for Syrian Studies - International Relations

  For the final part of her PhD fieldwork, Tamara travelled to Lebanon to explore the phenomena of Syrian civil society, beyond Syria. Lebanon has become the focal point of this research due to the extensive presence of Syrian civil society actors, with many having fled Syria following increasing threats.

As primary research questions, Tamara looked at how Syrian civil society has remained active despite the displacement of its actors as well as looking at what features, and attributes have enabled it to maintain networks, connections and vitally a sense of shared identity through time and space. Tamara conducted in-depth interviews and observational research with several Syrian led organisations, cultural centres and civil society actors based in Lebanon.

Why was a field trip enrich your research?

The final element of my doctoral research came about as a result of a recent manifestation of Syrian civil society in exile. This necessitated the undertaking of fieldwork to get a real grasp of how things functioned on the ground in the cases under investigation (Beirut and Istanbul). While there is information that is available online or via virtual interviews etc, this can certainly not replace first hand face to face interaction with individuals and the experience of physically being present in the spaces that have emerged to support Syrian civil society in these cities. Indeed, there are elements of this field that only became apparent through the fieldwork itself, of which are some of the most interesting aspects of the research as a whole.

What was the most interesting academic aspect of your field trip research?

I believe that the most interesting academic aspect to my field trip research is the conceptualisation of civil society that it holds at its core – one that has at its foundation the idea of resistance, its political element and its distancing from NGOs.

Did the field trip uncover any surprising findings?

While I was aware of certain more formal spaces that existed in which certain elements of civil society acted, the fieldwork enabled me to find more adhoc and informal spaces that were used by those acting within civil society. These spaces acted as a place of refuge and safety but also as a place to coalesce, exchange and create.

What was the highlight/ most memorable aspect of your travel experience?

I would have to say that the most memorable aspect of my travel was the ability to meet and engage with such a diverse group of individuals involved in Syria’s civil society. Each with their own unique stories of trauma and loss and each with their own sense of hope and passion for creativity and change despite their ongoing struggles.



  Female Combatants, Non-State Violent Groups and Organisational Decision Making

  Field work in Lebanon, 2016

  Jennifer Philippa Eggert - University of Warwick, PhD Student

  Department of Politics & International Studies

Jennifer’s research focused on the reasons why some non-state violent organisations (militias) decided to employ women in combat (as opposed to mere supportive) roles during the Lebanese Civil War(s) from 1975 to 1990, whereas others did not. Jennifer had found that existing research on female political violence during the Lebanese Civil War and beyond was limited.

Why was a field trip vital to your research?

In my research, I compared three groups of cases; the leftist Lebanese National Movement, the Christian Lebanese Front and the Amal Movement. I had previously conducted two field trips to Lebanon, funded by my university, to interview former combatants. The interviews with former fighters from Palestinian militias were very valuable as they closed a gap in my data collection that I would not have been able to address without the funding from CBRL. 

What was the most rewarding aspect of your field trip research?

During my trip I was invited to hold a talk at the American University in Beirut where I presented findings from my research in front of faculty, students, civil society representatives and members of the general public. The talk was the first that I’d given in Lebanon and it provided me with valuable feedback from colleagues working on similar and related issues. The talk was attended by researchers and students as well as members of the public which stressed the relevance and importance of my research topic beyond the academic community.

During my trip, I was also invited to conduct a research-informed workshop on the role of women in war for young Palestinian refugees at a UNRWA vocati

onal training centre in the south of Lebanon. The opportunity had arisen via a former interviewee and the feedback from the works

hop, a group of 17-18-year-old Palestinian refugees, was very positive.

What was the highlight of your travel experience

Approaching the end of my PHD, being able to disseminate findings, gain feedback from fellow academics and conduct more interviews was a fantastic opportunity that came just at the right time!



  Battlefield of Memory: The Nakba and the Holocaust as Exclusive Victimhood Narratives

  Field work in Israel and the West Bank, 2016

  Grace Wermenbol – University of Oxford, Faculty of Oriental Studies - Middle East Centre - PhD Student

  Grace’s research project constituted a parallel analysis of the collective transmission of the Nakba and the Holocaust in, respectively, Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish society in the post-Oslo era. Previous research in this area had focused on the familial transmission of these pivotal historical moments in Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian society. Grace’s focus was on the societal transmission of these foundational pasts across official institutions ­– education, media and mnemonic acts – and how these watersheds are used to contextualize the ongoing conflict. Through examining the collective transmission of these pasts, her research sought to identify the existence of exclusionary narratives that inform existing trends of denial of the other’s formative past.

Why was a field trip vital to your research?

Part of my research involved looking at how each group presented its own and the other’s past in the educational realm through a textual analysis of textbooks and an examination of educational policies that dictate the curricula’s content. During my field trip, I managed to secure interviews with both Israeli and Palestinian politicians who played pivotal roles in formulating the educational narrative on the foundational pasts under review. In Israel, I interviewed two former ministers of education, namely Gideon Saar, who was responsible for removing the Nakba from Israeli textbooks, and Shai Piron, responsible for introducing the Holocaust into the kindergarten.

In the West Bank, I interviewed Ali Jarbawi, the former Minister of Higher Education for the Palestinian National Authority and one of the team members of the first educational committee charged with the creation of a new Palestinian curriculum. Given the sensitive nature of these interviews, being able to conduct them in person rather than via Skype gave me a huge advantage, and I don’t believe I would have had the full, surprisingly candid answers, had they not have been face to face interviews. Overall, I don’t believe that I would have been able to complete and write up my research without this trip.

What was the most interesting aspect of your field trip research?

Gaining a contemporary understanding and researching each case study side-by-side proved very interesting. Understanding the reasons why the other’s history is marginalised in education, for example, only became apparent as a result of the fieldwork conducted. I learnt that the contemporary marginalisation of the Holocaust in the Palestinian curriculum was decided on a quid pro quo basis – since Israel is held responsible for what is considered the ‘ongoing Nakba’, it was decided that the new Palestinian curriculum did not need to critically engage with the Holocaust, perceived as a historical event that has been politically instrumentalised by the contemporary opponent rather than a universal crisis of humanity.

Did the field trip uncover any surprising findings?

I was most surprised by how candid my interviewees were. My interviewees, including many high-ranking officials, didn’t refrain from proclaiming controversial views; nevertheless, I was grateful for their openness and willingness to engage with me.

What was the highlight/ most memorable aspect of your travel experience?

Undertaking research in the Middle East, a region filled with strife, is not an easy experience. As such, I felt a sense of reward in accomplishing this ambitious project.



  Conduits of subjecthood, nationality, and citizenship: movement, migration and the subversion of borders in   Palestine, 1869-1945

  Field work in Jerusalem and Israel, 2016

  Dr Lauren Banko, University of Manchester

  Department of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies

Lauren was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Manchester and a historian working on the Palestine Mandate. Lauren’s research project was made more concrete thanks to archival research undertaken in Jerusalem that was made possible thanks to a CBRL travel grant in 2016.

The archival research allowed Lauren to really dig into records on frontier control, immigration protocol, documentary regimes, and smuggling networks in the Mandate. Thus, the project shaped into one on borders, borderlands and the frontier, and frontier and border controls in Mandate Palestine: analysing the ways in which the frontier and border were subverted and transgressed by mobile Arab, Jewish, and European migrants and smuggling networks during the interwar period. 

Why was a field trip vital to enrich your research?

The field research involved using archival documents in Israel and Jerusalem (Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Municipality Archives, and Haifa City Archive) which gave me access to records on borders, frontiers, the policing of these spaces, illegal migrants, forged passports, and subversive entries into Mandate Palestine, essential to furthering my project. Most of the documents with this information is not located or accessible in Great Britain.

What was the most interesting aspect of your field trip research?

The most interesting aspect for me were the archives - I am always keen to uncover new archival sources and I had been unsure of what I would find. I uncovered many documents that I had not known of prior to the trip. While I had planned to use at least one more archive that contained Arabic newspapers, due to the huge volume at another archive, I didn’t manage to do this. Instead, I was able to bring together a number of sources in order to shift my initial research project to cover a far more interesting topic: individual stories of border-crossings between Palestine and its neighbouring mandates.

Did the field trip uncover any surprising findings?

Yes. I found more than I expected, and was able to trace a couple of research angles using documents in English and Arabic.  I uncovered British Palestine Mandate correspondence with Arabic-speaking Jewish communities in Syria and Iraq that helped me better understand the construction of the frontiers of the Mandate of Palestine and the use of documentary identity such as passports and visas for Jews from Arab territories who came to Palestine. The stories of the smuggling of Arabic-speaking Jews by Muslim and Christian Palestinian Arabs were by far the most interesting findings.

What was the highlight/ most memorable aspect of your travel experience?

One main highlight was using the Haifa municipality archive. Before this trip, I had not visited this archive but during the summer of 2016 I was able to use it twice. While most of what I found in Haifa was not directly related to my research, the visits to the archive and to the city itself were useful to understand the massive amount of material in the municipality archive.  Similarly, colleagues told me about the Jerusalem municipality archive and I was very happy to discover a wealth of material here which I had not expected.

Finally, I greatly benefited (as always) by the hospitality of CBRL’s Kenyon Institute in East Jerusalem.  I am always happy to use this facility – as well as using the library and research space, I enjoyed a stay at the Kenyon.