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Discovering Afghan Archives at UNO

by Piper O'Sullivan

As a PhD Candidate in Central Eurasian Studies with a doctoral minor in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, I have developed a specialty in both Iranian Studies and Afghanistan Studies.  Intensive language training in Pashto and Persian has allowed me to focus my research on literary politics and specifically, Pashto poetry (oral and written) and jihad literature.  My dissertation analyzes the role of print media during the Afghan-Soviet war (1979-89) through a study of mujahedeen/tanzim periodicals and publications produced by non-partisan entities based in Northwest Pakistan.  Print media during this time does not show a homogenous resistance movement but reveals highly varied political agendas, alliances with foreign stakeholders, and serious debate about the relationship between Islam and human rights, judicial reform, higher education, and women’s role in society.  I also highlight the fact that jihad publications were not merely about identifying the enemy and inspiring retaliation, but became a medium for intellectual engagement and for the mujahedeen especially, advanced hierarchical internalization within political parties and was highly instrumental in articulating their cause and documenting human rights abuses.


 This project would not have been possible without the assistance of Shaista Wahab and Kelly Walker at the Criss Library of the University of Nebraska Omaha.  For anyone who is conducting research on Afghanistan, visiting the Arthur Paul Afghanistan Collection at UNO is a must!  Arthur Paul served as an economic advisor (1961-65) to the Royal Government of Afghanistan and donated his library in 1974.  Since then, it has grown to become the largest collection of Afghan materials in the US and one of the most comprehensive in the world.  Last semester, I spent a week in this state-of-the-art facility—documenting periodicals and maps, as well as visiting the Center for Afghanistan Studies under the directorship of Sher Jan Ahmadzai.  With the present challenges of traveling to Afghanistan, UNO provides a fantastic alternative and innumerable resources for studying all aspects of this region—including history, culture, economics, education, folklore, law, agriculture and geology.  I also recommend taking a look at the collection’s holdings of Luke Powell’s beautiful photography of landscapes and Afghan villages. 


This year I was the honored recipient of the 2016-17 Dissertation Year Research Fellowship from the College of Arts and Sciences at IU.  I am very grateful to my dissertation committee who supported my application, namely Dr. Nazif Shahrani, Dr. Jamsheed Choksy, and Dr. Çiğdem Balım Harding.  It has been an absolute privilege to be their student for the past 6 years and to strengthen my knowledge of Central Asia and the Middle East under their guidance.  The Fellowship award is made possible through the estate of Ruth Norman Halls (IU class of 1919), Classics major and defender of liberal arts education.  She contended that “it’s essential not to get too narrow too soon—to study what has gone before and to read widely.”  Following the advice of Ruth, I look forward to spending next year embracing the scholarship of those who have come before, while writing for the complexities of today that have emerged from decades of conflict in Afghanistan.


Exhibition Poster for Luke Powell's photography at the University of Nebraska Omaha



"Lavender Flowers Near Maimana," Afghanistan, March 1978, © Luke Powell