John Malcolm Russell— 2005 Outstanding Public Service Award
The continuing crisis in Iraq has placed at risk an entire chapter in human history. Recognizing that many individuals and international organizations have vigorously responded to the challenges of protecting Iraqi sites and restoring cultural institutions, the Archaeological Institute of America wishes to single out the particular efforts of John Malcolm Russell, Professor of Art History and Archaeology at the Massachusetts College of Art.
Following upon the first Gulf War in 1991, John Russell warned of the devastation taking place in the ancient cities of Mesopotamia. He urgently pressed the U.S. government, non-governmental organizations, and archaeological colleagues to take action to protect Iraqi sites. For the most part he was ignored, Cassandra-like, and even those who were sympathetic dismissed his concerns on the grounds that nothing could be done.
John Russell, however, did not lower his voice, publishing numerous articles in magazines such as Archaeology and Natural History. His efforts at alerting the wider public culminated in his important book, The Final Sack of Nineveh: the Discovery, Documentation, and Destruction of Sennacherib's Throne Room at Nineveh, Iraq (New Haven, 1998). In these works Russell's meticulous research called attention to Iraqi antiquities appearing on the international market and traced their origins back to specific sites and monuments. His earlier book, From Nineveh to New York: the Strange Story of the Assyrian Reliefs in the Metropolitan Museum and the Hidden Masterpiece at Canford School (New Haven, 1997), also helped bring to the attention of a wide audience the hidden mechanisms and deleterious effects of the antiquities trade. As war with Iraq loomed in late 2002, Russell warned of a potential catastrophe of looting and urging that preventive measures be taken. He provided leadership and expertise to archaeological colleagues who at last were aroused to action. Russell played a central role in approaches to the Pentagon and began an intensive series of interviews with the press and other media. Following the U.S. invasion and the looting of the Iraqi National Museum, Russell became the most visible spokesman for archaeology and history at risk, giving many radio and television interviews and writing articles. In all of these presentations he vividly conveyed to the general public both what had been lost and why it was so important. His visible anger and sorrow only served to strengthen his message.
When asked to join the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, Russell showed his willingness to take extreme risks in backing up his words with action. From September 2003 until June 2004 he served as Deputy Senior Advisor, then Senior Advisor, to the Iraq Ministry of Culture, Coalition Provisional Authority. During this work he continued his efforts to educate those around him about the importance of preserving Iraq's archaeological heritage. With few resources he pressed for better protection of sites and practical efforts at restoring Iraqi museums. He also served as an inspiring leader for the staff of the Iraqi National Museum as they attempted to move toward the future. As reconstruction has progressed, Russell has raised awareness of the need to incorporate site protection in rebuilding contracts. Since returning to the U.S., he has continued to speak out in public forums in defense of the preservation of sites and the restoration of museums. In recognition of generous and effective service, carried out under extraordinary and often dangerous circumstances, the Archaeological Institute of America presents John Malcolm Russell its Outstanding Public Service Award for the year 2005.