Living Knowledge blog

12 November 2018

Introducing our new Chevening Fellows

SLP-093 - GroupIn September we were delighted to welcome three new international researchers to the Library as part of our collaboration with Chevening, the UK government’s international professional development programme. With their year-long fellowships now well underway, in this blog post Akmal Bazarbaev (from Uzbekistan), Rihana Suliman (from Syria) and Sanja Stepanovic-Todorovic (from Serbia) look back on their first months at the Library (and in London) and tell us about their plans for 2019.

Meanwhile, we look forward to continuing our partnership with Chevening in the years ahead, with two more fellowships starting in September 2019 – one focused on digitised archival material from Latin America and the Caribbean, another looking at African-language printed books collections. These unique projects are a fantastic way for colleagues across the Library to both support and benefit from the professional development of international researchers, capitalising on the breadth and depth of our collection, resources and expertise.

SLP-243Top image: our new Chevening Fellows, Sanja Stepanovic-Todorovic, Rihana Suliman and Akmal Bazarbaev. Above: Rihana and Sanja at work at the British Library. All photos by Sam Lane.

Akmal Bazarbaev

SLP-048 - AkmalMy Chevening fellowship project is on exploring and enhancing the British Library’s Turkic-language collections. By cataloguing and publicising Turkic materials in the Library’s collection, the project will add to our knowledge about the nature and extent of publishing in Turkic languages throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I’m working under the supervision of Michael Erdman, Turkish and Turkic Collections Curator.

I am interested in materials and sources concerning the Turkic world written in Turkic, Persian and Arabic languages. My Chevening Fellowship is a great way to explore this subject. By working with staff and researchers at the British Library, I am learning new ways to explore and enhance historical sources. At the same time, this fellowship is helping me to increase my academic network. It is a wonderful opportunity!

Before coming to the UK, I already knew that the British Library was one of biggest libraries in the world. Now I am seeing that it is even more than that. It is not just a place that passively keeps huge amounts of material; it is also a leading research institution in its own right and a vibrant cultural centre.

I have earned my Bachelor and Master’s degrees from Tashkent State Institute of Oriental Studies. Having worked at the National Library and Central State Archive of Uzbekistan, I have held different positions, such as librarian, senior archivist and senior researcher. My current post in Uzbekistan is as a researcher at the Institute of History in the Academy of Sciences. I’m really excited about how the Chevening Fellowship will allow me to build on this experience over the months ahead.


Rihana Suliman

My fellowship is based within the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP), which is co-ordinated and hosted by the British Library and supported by Arcadia. My project is focused on helping EAP to strengthen its activities in North Africa and the Middle East. I’ll be doing research into archival collections held in those regions, engaging with archival experts locally and internationally, and developing a targeted engagement strategy and outreach programme. All of which is incredibly exciting! SLP-087 - Rihana

For me personally, one of the great things about this fellowship is the chance it gives me to belong to an active research community. I have most recently been working as an assistant professor at Damascus University in the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics. The circumstances of the war in Syria have almost completely ruled out the possibility of conducting research, especially for academics of English literature and other foreign languages. So this fellowship is a particularly treasured opportunity. It will also allow me to benefit from the broad range of professional expertise in the Library and reflect on my professional, academic and personal growth.

The first months of my fellowship have been full of thought-provoking engagements within the Endangered Archives Programme, the British Library and London. I had the pleasure of attending the opening of the Library’s photographic exhibition Beyond Timbuktu: Preserving the Manuscripts of Djenné, Mali – a digitisation project funded by EAP. I have also visited the Treasures of the British Library and the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War exhibitions here, in addition to attending the recent V&A conference on Middle Eastern Crafts: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. This was a fantastic opportunity for me to meet and network with researchers from all over the world but more specifically from the Middle East and North Africa.

I would use words such as super productive, hugely inspiring and very exciting if I am to describe my first months here. But I should also use one more word: lucky. I am very lucky indeed to have the wonderful support and encouragement of my supervisor Jody Butterworth, the EAP curator, and other colleagues. I am looking forward to the many accomplishments to be made in the year ahead!


Sanja Stepanovic-Todorovic

SLP-053 - SanjaI feel pleased and privileged to spend the 2018/2019 academic year in the British Library as a Chevening Fellow. I come from Serbia’s capital Belgrade, where I have been working in the Library of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts.

My project, Academy and Society in the Balkans: 1850-1950, covers 9 countries: Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia. It takes place within the Southeast European section of the Library’s European & Americas Collections team, under supervision of curator Milan Grba.

Our aim is to increase the visibility and accessibility of the Library’s collection of Balkan academic publications to both researchers and the wider public. Through a combination of bibliographic work and research, the project will throw fresh light on the publishing efforts of Balkan academic institutions since the second half of the 19th century.

So far I have spent many fruitful hours in the Library’s basements, physically surveying and identifying Balkan academic publications. It has been slightly mind-boggling to be amongst such a vast and diverse concentration of publications from all over the world! Looking ahead, I’m excited about starting work on the main outputs of this research – a new database and collection guide. I’ll also be liaising with conservators around any items that require additional preservation and conservation treatment. And rest assured I’ll be helping our curators to start filling any gaps that we identify in the most relevant series!


Interviews by James Perkins

Research & Postgraduate Development Manager