The CBRL is an independent, not-for-profit organisation that conducts, supports and promotes research in the history, culture, society and archaeology of the Levant. The CBRL has an administrative office in London and two research institutes in the region: the CBRL Kenyon Institute (KI) in East Jerusalem and the CBRL British Institute in Amman (BIA). Plans to open a CBRL Institute in Damascus have been temporarily suspended due to the current political situation in Syria.
The CBRL was registered as a charity in 1998 following the merger of the British Institute at Amman for Archaeology and History (BIAAH), now the British Institute in Amman, and the British School of Archaeology at Jerusalem (BSAJ), now the Kenyon Institute. The new organization broadened its remit to support all the disciplines supported by the British Academy. This led to a period of organic growth with a policy of encouraging a wide range of scholars to see the CBRL and its regional institutes as their natural research locus.
The specific patterns of the contemporary Levant require a comprehensive understanding of the historical background. The traditional strengths in archaeology and other historically focused disciplines have been maintained with new and substantial fieldwork campaigns in the Wadi Faynan area (eastern Jordan) and around Homs (Syria), as well as affiliated research in the Paphos region of Cyprus. These interests have continued to include environmental and climate research, which in the Levant often brings us back to issues regarding water and consequently to the contemporary world, providing an immediate connection to social scientists working on modern Middle Eastern societies.
Furthermore the anthropological archaeology conducted by researchers in prehistory resonates with much of the contemporary anthropological research, completing the circle of our research community.
The institutes and their accommodation provide an interdisciplinary meeting ground, both for short and long stay guests, where living and working together provides opportunities to make connections that the pressures of 21st century university life often do not allow.CBRL events organised in the UK and by the institutes provide opportunity for broader dialogues, network-building and understanding.
The CBRL provides support for researchers working throughout the region. Our main traditional focus has been in Jordan, Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Syria, Lebanon and Cyprus. But our increasing interest in contemporary studies and recent events such as the influx of Iraqi refugees and the regional Arab revolutions, demands increasingly fluid boundaries to our research area. Indeed, several recent projects have included Egypt and North Africa within their research. We are keen to support high quality research, but as always, available resources set limitations rather than our imagination. Our existing institutes are thriving but need support to help them to continue to develop. Despite the current impossibility of achieving our long-standing goal of opening an institute in Damascus, we remain committed to supporting research in the northern Levant. We hope that our new advanced Arabic language programme based with Institute français du Proche-Orient (Ifpo) in Beirut will help to maintain this activity.
The Kenyon Institute will be celebrating a centenary of the British institute in Jerusalem in 2019. As part of our campaign to maintain and expand it as a dynamic research hub we will soon launch a centenary appeal, a central goal of which will be to set up a video conferencing facility that can link researchers in the region. The difficulties of travelling in the region, combined with the rising costs of flights and a desire to reduce air miles, make such facilities increasingly important. The British Academy has been very generous with its funding over the years, reflecting our success in developing CBRL's disciplinary and geographical coverage. But we believe that we should widen our funding base, making us more secure for the future and able to develop new initiatives.
We are firmly committed to the pursuit of academic excellence, the importance of fine-grained empirically based research, and the need to develop strong collaboration between the UK and scholars in the region, fostered through strong research institutes.
The Levant is an old term, with its first use in English in the 16th century, and initially generally meaning the Mediterranean east of Italy. The focus moved a little further east with the establishment of the English Levant Company in 1581 with its regional headquarters in Aleppo. This flexible term suits our desire for soft geographical research boundaries. Though considered by some a slightly outmoded term, it is currently rising in popularity with, for example, fashionable new restaurants adopting the name. There is no politically neutral shorthand term for the region, Near and Middle Easts are both contested, and the Arabic term we tend to use, Bilad al-Sham, is equally historically situated, as is the chief alternative, al-Mashriq al-'Arabi. In an area with such a deep, rich and complex past and present there is not one term that can encapsulate everything - or please everyone!
Our logo is from a Safaitic Inscription from al-Isawi, southern Syria, depicting a horseman raiding camels; around the 1st century AD. The complete stone shows a bactrian (two-humped) camel as well as a dromedary (one-humped). The bactrian camel is not native to Arabia and probably came from Central Asia as part of a caravan.
Image originally published by E.Littmann 1943 in "Safaitic Inscriptions" (Publications of the Princeton Archaeological Expedition to Syria, Division IV C) No. 325, and later republished by M. Macdonald, M. Al-Mua`azzin and L. Nehmé, "Les Inscriptions safaïtiques de Syrie, 140 ans après leur découverte", Comptes Rendus de L'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres 1996, 467ff..