UH Professor Receives Prestigious NEH Grant for Digital Exploration of Syrian Culture


The University of Houston College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) is proud to recognize Assistant Professor of History Kristina M. Neumann, Ph.D., who received a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant for her work as co-director of “The SYRIOS Project: Studying Urban Relationships and Identity over Ancient Syria.” The digital humanities project, which uses a dynamic online interface to tell stories of ancient Syrian culture through maps and coins, was one of just 17 of its kind to receive a NEH “Digital Projects for the Public” award in 2020. 

“Professor Neumann’s NEH grant speaks to the quality of her scholarship and to the innovative nature of The SYRIOS Project,” said Daniel P. O’Connor, Ph.D., interim dean of CLASS. “The digital age offers unprecedented opportunity to make vital academic research accessible and inviting on a global scale. Professor Neumann has gone above and beyond in using technology to educate the public and promote cross-cultural understanding.”

Co-directed by Peggy Lindner of the UH College of Technology, The SYRIOS project began in 2016 as an outgrowth of Neumann’s research into ancient Syria and as a response to the current crisis in modern Syria. By focusing on a dynamic presentation of Syrian material, culture and the stories of Syrian cities during the Greco-Roman period, it seeks to transform public awareness of the ancient world and to revitalize public perception of Syria as a diverse and vibrant metropolitan region. The SYRIOS Project also exemplifies the power of objects as testimony to everyday lives and offers scholars an enhanced digital data source applicable to research, teaching and community outreach. 

“I am absolutely ecstatic to receive this award,” Neumann said. “Considering the continuing destruction of artifacts and historical sites within Syria, we hope to educate a wide audience about the importance of preserving not only the objects themselves but also the place and context in which they were discovered. The grant represents a significant step toward achieving the goal of this project, which is to preserve knowledge of and encourage wide engagement with the diversity of the ancient Middle East.” 

Neumann acknowledged the contributions of her UH colleagues and University resources to the project’s success.

“This award is an affirmation of not only the project’s vision but also the cross-campus collaboration behind it,” Neumann said. “The SYRIOS project came to fruition because of my partnership with Peggy Lindner and Elizabeth Rodwell, the assistance of student researchers from humanities and STEM, and financial support from the Digital Research Commons at UH Libraries and Division of Research.” 

Buoyed by NEH’s financial support and the increased visibility that accompanies it, Neumann sees an even brighter future ahead for The SYRIOS Project. 

“Through these funds, we will be able to expand the content of the exhibit, enhance digital engagement and test usability with a wide range of audiences,” Neumann said. “It elevates the profile of the project to a national level, which means even more people – from middle school students to scholars – will be encouraged to explore the vital contemporary issue of Syrian identity and heritage. This award also confirms the diversity and innovation of our digital humanities community at UH. By using digital tools and methodologies to conduct and communicate research, these projects amplify new voices and perspectives for the academy and world at large.”