The description is submitted to:

Session R4748 (Conducting Archival Research in MENA: Current Challenges, Creative Solutions), 2017
I will offer my perspective on current research conditions in Syria, speaking to the feasibility of doing research in Syria for Syrian citizens and foreign nationals at the present time. As a Syrian national I was able to enter the country through the open border with Lebanon, and spent five months doing research in Damascus in early 2016. In addition to practical issues of access to the country, I will discuss the accessibility of archives in Damascus, recent changes, and the possibilities for nineteenth and twentieth century historical studies. The Dar al-Watha'iq al-Tarikhiyya in Damascus has been undergoing a thorough digitization process in recent years. Therefore, most civil court records and commercial court records are available in digital format. Information on the early nationalist movement under the French Mandate is particularly rich, as there has been recent interest in documenting this on the part of the archive. The private papers of many influential and intellectual elites are a useful source, and copies of the official newspaper Al-Asima are available there too. Obstacles exist in terms of limitations on reproduction of documents, but it is possible for researchers to negotiate under certain circumstances related to project topic, language skills, and national origin. Other locations of interest that remain accessible include the National Library (Asad Library), which has been also digitizing newspapers and periodicals as well as their collections of books. Another promising area that is contingent on relationships and the researcher’s topic and profile is private family collections. Families in Damascus have rich materials that have been passed down through generations, but they are very hard to access without a personal connection and a strong relationship, particularly given the current circumstances in Syria. Currently, Damascene historian Sami al-Moubayyed is trying to compile family archival material in a project called The Damascus History Foundation. This project may provide a way for researchers without direct access to Syrian archives to pursue topics based on Syrian sources. While the sources available in Syria are rich, the difficulty of access, particularly outside Damascus, and the loss of materials not digitized before the current conflict began, will continue to limit options for historians working on Syria’s modern history. I will share my thoughts on how Syrian history can continue to be written with the help of European and Ottoman documents.