The University of Arizona is hosting three professors from Afghanistan this semester, with the goal to teach them historic and cultural preservation techniques.
Afghanistan has more than 5,000 historic sites in need of preservation, but many have been destroyed or threatened during the country’s decades of war.
The professors are learning from UA cultural preservationists, as well as other professions, including archeology, anthropology and ethnography -the study of cultures.
One of the professors in Tucson, Muzghan Hamraz, teaches three courses in archeology and one in ethnography at Kabul University. She hopes to learn skills and restoration techniques she can take back to her country, she said.
“I hope I completely implement this methodology to Kabul University," she said. "Our main goals in cultural heritage conservation are how we can implement the new methodology and how we can make a curriculum, an academic curriculum in Kabul University."
The professors are also learning new teaching methods, which incorporate technology to enhance the mostly lecture-style college classes. They are studying with UA's library researchers.
“We really need this kind of program because our archeological sites and historical sites are faced with lots of difficulties, are faced with lots of problems," Hamraz said, especially after decades of war, during which some historic sites were destroyed.
"We should preserve it and we should learn about how we can manage a site and how we can use the methods, how we can preserve historical archeological sites. It’s very important for us," she said.
The skills she and her two colleagues are learning from peers in Arizona are not just academic, they could help with economic development in Afghanistan, said R. Brooks Jeffery, director of the Drachman Institute, which is funding the program with a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Department of State.
“This started with the premise that Afghanistan needs to go through a period of reconstruction and that involves infrastructural reinvestment and we're hoping that cultural preservation can be that," he said.
The professional training could help develop a tourism market for the country, he said.
"Also to begin to develop an industry around that that would create an economic driver for the next generation of support for Afghanistan,” Jeffery said.
The program has been five years in the making, and the funding is administered by the National Park Service. That government program in itself is something the Afghan professors are learning about, Hamraz said.
“It's our dream to one day we will be able to preserve our monuments and our sites as a national park service," she said.
The professors visited Tumacacori National Historical Park to find out about site conservation. Just like sites in Afghanistan, Hamraz said a lot of cultures are reflected in that building, which is located south of Tucson.
It started as a “Spanish colony and after that it became a part of the United States. Still we can see the influences of Spanish and Mexican art in Tucson,” she said.
The professors arrived in early September, and will stay until early December. One of the things they’re learning is artifact preservation techniques, at the Arizona State Museum.
“We work together to (learn) how we can preserve artifacts, how we can analyze it, how we can restore it, and in the lab how we can analyze artifacts and archive artifacts," Hamraz said.
While it is a program in which U.S. professors and experts teach Afghan residents, it's actually a two-way learning process, Jeffery said.
“One of the most important things is that the Americans who are interacting with the Afghans are going to learn as much as the Afghans will take with them. And the reason is that Americans have a very generalized view of Afghanistan and the Afghan people are on par with critical issues that affect cultural issues worldwide," he said.
Jeffery said he hopes this program sparks more like it in the future.
“I think it's important that the U of A realize the resources that are common to both regions. So we have a tradition of mud and earthen architecture here, we have a tradition of layered cultures each one with their expression," Jeffery said. "I think we have a lot to learn from each other.”