AIYS after 40
Reflections on the History of AIYS
The American Institute for Yemeni Studies (AIYS) celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2018. Founded in 1977, the first office in Ṣan‘ā' was opened in 1978 under the directorship of Dr. Jon Mandaville. During its 40 years AIYS has supported American, other foreign and Yemeni researchers with fellowships and assistance for research permission through its Yemeni counterpart, the Center for Research and Studies.
View of Taiz
When I arrived in Yemen with my wife and two children in January of 1974, there were few researchers in the country save perhaps for Tomas Gerholm in Manakha. On advice from Yemeni friends in the US, we settled in Taiz where we remained until the end of July 1975. In those days there was no AIYS so we were left to sort things out on our own. About a year after we returned to Detroit I got a call from Mac Gibson about a meeting at the University of Chicago to set up a research facility in Yemen. I thought this a fine idea and took the train to Chicago where I met with Mac, the late Manfred (Kurt) Wenner, Marvin Zonis, and perhaps one or two others whose names I can’t recollect. We ended up meeting two or three times.
Under Mac’s leadership AIYS began to set up bylaws based on the bylaws of other research groups like the American Research Center in Egypt. It was orginally proposed that we might call AIYS the “American Research Center in Yemen” but this was rejected and we eventually settled on the American Institute for Yemeni Studies. I suggested that we include a rule in the bylaws barring anyone engaged on intelligence gathering from the institute on the grounds that researchers and research would be jeopardized if we were in any way perceived as government agents. This amendment found support and was adopted.
When I returned to Yemen in 1979, AIYS was in full swing with Jon Mandaville as the local director. He and his family were welcoming and very supportive. Like many researchers I stayed there briefly before I found an apartment. Other researchers there at the time included Barbara Croken, Tom Stevenson, Susan Dorsky, and Steve Caton. Subsequently Leigh Douglas became director. Leigh later taught at the American University of Beirut where he was tragically kidnapped and later assassinated by a faction of Hizballah after Reagan ordered airstrikes on Libya which killed members of Muammar Qadafis family.
From 1981-83 my then wife, Lealan Swanson, served as director of AIYS and she is best able to relate that chapter of the AIYS saga. One memory of that period which will probably not make her part of the story is that while my daughter and walking in gulleys west of Sanaa near the international school my daughter pointed out a stone hand axe. I subsequently collected a number of these and left them at AIYS. They certainly confirmed the ancient human occupation of the Sanaa plateau and the possibility of productive archaeological research in the area.
Jon Swanson was the first American anthropologist to do research in Yemen in the early 1970s. For an article by Jon on Yemeni emigration, click here.
This page contains reflections and photographs from former AIYS officers, resident directors and fellows. We encourage anyone who has used the facilities of AIYS or benefited from assistance to send their reflections and photographs for inclusion, as AIYS goes forward to assist our colleagues in Yemen.
Please send your reflections to firstname.lastname@example.org
Michel at Sabanco place (Old Sanaa, Harat at-Talh)
In October 2010, I arrived Sanaa for a 10 months scholarship to practice Arabic language and get experience of Arabic culture. It was a basic scholarship set on agreement between the Polish and Yemeni governments. From the Polish side it has been used mostly by students of Arabic language studies, however Yemen was not a popular destination. That year only I and one girl came (and there were 5 places).
The scholarship was a great chance to gather material for my B.A. thesis on an introduction to Yemeni dialects. Because of that, I reached out to AIYS about its facilities in Sanaa. I got some directions from Faraj, but getting to AIYS was quite challenging as it was in an uncharacteristic house, located in a small alley near the Republican Hospital in al-Qa’a Street. There I met Faraj and Stephen (AIYS director at the time).
Date seller near Bab al-Yaman
I have spent some long hours in AIYS library going through dialectological books and dictionaries. It contained everything that was written on Yemeni dialects. It was a very enjoyable time, but also crucial for my B.A. thesis. Unfortunately, at my home University of Warsaw, there were not any positions for dialectology.
Suq al-‘Arj (Donkey Market)
My research coincided with turmoil times that shadowed the whole Arab world. My stay was cut short and I left Yemen on 3rd June, 2011, the same day bomb exploded in Presidential Palace and was supposed to kill Ali Abdullah Salih.
Beginning of Arab Spring in Yemen –
demonstration next to Sanaa University
All my experiences with AIYS were great and fundamental for my academic success. Footnote 1 in my thesis states: “I got access to books in greatly supplied library of American Institute for Yemeni Studies, which contains, not only positions on Yemeni dialects, but also on South Arabic languages. Not to mention other subject areas”.