American Univesity of Beirut

New Digital Collection at the UL: The Refugee Cultural Heritage Archive

​​The University Libraries (UL) are happy to announce a new digital collection, which is now accessible through the UL website: The Refugee Cultural Heritage Archive.

The Refugee Cultural Heritage digital archive captures memories from the refugees' homeland and creates permanent records of valuable items and materials that embody the Palestinian and Syrian cultural heritage. The collection comprises videos, sound recordings, and photographs, which depict the cultural heritage that is currently at risk of being lost or forgotten because of the displacement of the population. It is an initiative of “Lest we forget" for their cultural heritage. 

The project is funded by the British Council and was managed by Swansea City Opera during 2019.

It is important to note that the content of the archive was researched, selected and collected by residents of refugee camps in Lebanon, thus adding value to the information on display. So far, a total of 220 records were collected and the displayed items can be filtered by type: images, sounds or videos.

In addition to its value for researchers and academics, the project team believes that the project has an important social impact. The partners collectively think that, since the population of the camps is now multi-generational, the project has proven to be an “important conduit for increasing understanding between the elderly and the young, some of whom have never seen or visited their homeland, and have never learned or experienced the traditions and customs of their forbears." A way forward for this archive would be to increase the number of collected records by extending work across the different camps in Lebanon.

Basma Chebani, Associate University Librarian for Cataloging and Metadata Services, said that the project is a “contribution of the Libraries at the American University of Beirut in collecting, describing, archiving and disseminating information about intangible cultural heritage, mainly represented through popular songs, dances, and folktales of Palestinian and Syrian refugees in the refugee camps in Lebanon." Adding that “it was not a surprise to find that Palestinian and Syrian refugees share approximately the same cultural- and popular- heritage in terms of traditions and customs, including popular songs and celebration habits, since they are- in a way- one people living in different geographical and political areas."  

Dany Awwad, Digital Imaging Specialist at the Digital Scholarship Services department, said that he is glad to be a part of this project's team. He believes that this project “is not only documenting and archiving the heritage of the refugees, but also saving an entire culture, identity, and heritage from disappearing and from dissolving with other cultures." Awwad sees the initiative as a “story told to the coming generations in the future by people who suffered in the past from war and displacement. . . A tale told by fragments of songs, dances, food, memories, tears, and laughs carried from homeland to diaspora." He hopes that the project will help in preserving this rich cultural heritage and in justifying a story of a nation that suffered a lot in the past.

More about the Project

Swansea City Opera received a grant from the British Council Cultural Protection Fund set up to protect cultural heritage, which is at risk of being lost due to conflicts in the region. The 12-month project was tasked with creating a permanent record of the intangible cultural heritage of Palestinian and Syrian refugees, which could be accessed, by researchers and by the general public through a digital archive.

The American University of Beirut (AUB) is hosting the archive, and partnered with Dream of a Refugee Association, working with refugees in Shatila camp in Beirut, and the Social Humanitarian Economical Intervention for Local Development (SHEILD) working with refugees in Rashidieh camp in the south of Lebanon.​

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