Field Photography: The Marsh Arabs of Iraq, 1934

Sheikh Fālih' Al-S'aihūd Seated
Sheikh Fālih' Al-S'aihūd Sitting, PM 53-26-60/15921.358

In April of 1934, physical anthropologist Henry Field (1902–1986) led an expedition to Iraq to carry out an anthropometric survey of the region’s people. Sponsored by Field’s uncle, a scion of Chicago department store magnate Marshall Field, the expedition spent four and a half months conducting fieldwork among tribes in the upper and lower Tigris-Euphrates region of Iraq. The team included two anthropologists, a photographer, a linguist, a taxidermist, an entomologist, and a translator. Team members took photographs, recorded physical and cultural characteristics of the people and landscape, and collected botanical, geological, and zoological specimens. Although the bulk of the expedition material is in the Field Museum in Chicago, the expedition members also donated items to the archaeological collection of the Iraqi Museum in Baghdad.

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Based on photographs donated to the Peabody Museum by Henry Field in 1953, this exhibit is a narrative of the expedition to the Marsh Arab lands and is refracted through the lenses of cameras and entries from Field’s memoir and publications. Although the images were primarily taken among the āl bu Moh'ammad, a large coalition of tribes in the southeastern part of al-H'awiza Marsh, this exhibit also shows a rare glimpse of the landscape and Arab tribes that dwelled in the marshlands during the 1930s, and records a culture that has essentially vanished because of recent political events. The photographs show expedition members collecting marsh samples and conducting an anthropometric survey of the people, thus providing an intimate view of physical anthropological fieldwork techniques in the 1930s.

Original Exhibit Curated by Omar Dewachi.

All Photos in the Henry Field Collection, Peabody Museum, ©The Field Museum of Natural History.