I wish to call your attention to "Iraq: the history of mathematics and
the aftermath of war," by Eleanor Robson, the lead article in the
latest issue of the Newsletter of the British Society for the History
of Mathematics (BSHM Newsletter, vol. 49, Autumn 2003, pp. 1-9). Dr.
Robson has been a generous contributor to this list.
The narrative and the photos of this article contain Dr. Robson's
"attempt to assess the damage to Iraq's mathematical and cultural
heritage, based on the expert assessments and eyewitness reports" [p.
2]. Because I believe the last page of Dr. Robson's article is
especially worthy of the widest circulation (and not everyone on this
list is a member of the BSHM), I ask your patience to consider it in
its entirety here.
"At a conservative estimate, around a million books from Iraq's
libraries, and many thousands of manuscripts and documents, have been
burned or looted this year. Almost all of Iraq's major museums and
libraries are out of action, and will be for many years. It will cost
vast amounts of money, time, and expert labour to reverse the effects
of two weeks of post-war chaos and thirteen years of sanctions.
Planning is only just getting underway. There are simple things we can
all do to help.
"1. Do not, under any circumstances, buy cuneiform tablets or Arabic
manuscripts you may see for sale; you run the risk of a hefty fine or
imprisonment. Since 14 June it has been illegal in the UK to handle
any Iraqi antiquities that do not have an export license; and very few
do. If you do come across anything that you think might be an illicit
Iraqi aritfact do not challenge the dealer. Photograph it if you can;
make notes on what you have seen, and and where and when, as soon as
possible, and report it to the Metropolitan Police Art and Antiquities
Team on 020 7230 2150.
"2. To help the Iraq Museum's recovery write a cheque to the BSAI
(British School of Archeology in Iraq) Iraq Fund, British Academy, 10
Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AH.
"3. To donate books to Iraq university and public libraries, contact
Books for Baghdad: Ian REvie of Edinburgh University
[log in to unmask] or Alan Taylor of the Sunday Herald
[log in to unmask] Please do not give outdated or decaying books
that you might otherwise send to a charity shop; consider donating your
own scholarly output, and/or persuading colleagues to do the same.
Department- or faculty-wide book donation campaigns can be very
"4. Write or mail your MP to express your concern about
British-controlled Basra, where around three quarters of the University
Library's holdings and all of the Central Library's were destroyed by
fire. Enlist your MP to lobby the Department of Culture, Media, and
sport (DCMS, minister Tessa Jowell) and the Department for
International Development (DfID, minister Hilary Benn) for a concrete,
budgeted renewal plan for Basra's academic and cultural life.
"5. Teach your students some of the wonderful history of Iraqi
mathematics and science!"
If I may be so bold, I would like to offer two more "things we can all
do to help."
6. If you are a member of the BSHM, make copies of Dr. Robson's
article available to as wide an audience as you can --- colleagues,
students, etc. In Montgomery, Alabama, I am going to make sure that
our city museum director and his staff each receive a copy. Encourage
Dr. Robson and others to write periodic follow-ups to keep those of us
who are not experts up-to-date.
7. Each of us on this list is a member of one or more major
institutions, a college or university, the MAA and AMS, or other
national and regional professional organization. In addition to
donating books and writing checks, I hope each of us in his or her own
way can search for means to lead some of our institutions to offer
partnerships and other appropriate sustained and substantial assistance
to the academies, libraries, museums, and other centers in Iraq that
are so important to the people there and to our heritage, mathematical
Thank you, and special thanks to Eleanor Robson.
Maurice Bazin, Florianópolis, Brasil
Tel: 55 48 237 3140
Fax: 55 48 338 2686 (may need oral warning; pode precisar avisar)