Meet the Humanities Center’s New Associate Director Helen Malko

An archaeologist and anthropologist, her research background centers on the cultural heritage of the Middle East.

Feb 2, 2023
Helen Malko
Stanford Humanities Center Associate Director Helen Malko

The Stanford Humanities Center is delighted to welcome its new Associate Director, Dr. Helen Malko, who joined the staff on January 9. In her role, Malko supports Director Roland Greene’s vision for the Center and oversees the day-to-day operations, including programming and events that serve more than 40 research fellows as well as the Stanford community more broadly.

Malko comes to Stanford from the American Center of Research (ACOR) in Amman, Jordan. Before joining ACOR, she worked at Columbia University in New York, where she managed various academic programs and projects in the Department of Art History and Archaeology and the Middle East Institute. She was the Program Manager for the Mellon Fellowship Program for Emerging Displaced Scholars at Columbia’s Global Center in Amman. 

She has been awarded multiple fellowships at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Columbia University (Department of Art History and Archaeology and the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies). Her research centers on archaeology and cultural heritage of the Middle East, cultural representation in museums, and cultural memory. She holds a PhD in Anthropology and Archaeology from Stony Brook University and a MA and BA degree from Baghdad University. In addition, she has conducted field work and projects in Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan and is a member of the Columbia University project Mapping Mesopotamian Monuments. 

Malko’s recent publications include "Heritage Wars: A Cultural Genocide in Iraq" in Cultural Genocide: Law, Politics, and Global Manifestations, ed. Jeffrey Bachman (Routledge, 2019), a co-authored article "Parthian Rock Reliefs in Iraqi Kurdistan" in Iraq 2019, the BISI Journal, and "The Kassites of Babylonia: A Re-examination of an Ethnic Identity," in Studies and the Sealand and Babylonia under the Kassites, eds. Susanne Paulus and Tim Clayden (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2020). 

Learn more about her work  

Tell us about growing up in Iraq and the circumstances that first brought you to the U.S.

I grew up within an Assyrian-Iraqi family interested in literature and cultures and had parents who never accepted less than a full college education for their children. Like the rest of my siblings, I received my undergraduate and graduate degrees during war times. After I completed my MA at Baghdad University in 2003, I was awarded a USAID scholarship through Stony Brook University in New York to continue my education toward a doctoral degree. 

What sparked your interest in archaeology and anthropology?

I was fascinated with history and art at an early age. My parents—and also the exposure to the rich remains of the ancient civilizations that inhabited Mesopotamia (Iraq)—inspired me and sparked my curiosity about early societies and their human experience. I was privileged to explore some of the most important UNESCO world heritage sites, including Nineveh, Hatra, and Babylon, which deepened my resolve to choose an archaeology path.

What has been the focus of your research?

Most of my studies have focused on Mesopotamia's archaeology and cultural heritage. Thousands of years of civilization exist in that land; societies left their marks for us not only to know but, importantly, to learn from many crucial aspects of life such as education, governing, astronomy, writing, and law. My graduate work investigated an ancient foreign minority group that ruled southern Mesopotamia for centuries and brought political stability and artistic innovation. 

More recently, my research has focused on the destruction and reconstruction of cultural heritage and its implications on local communities and society. I explore issues of cultural heritage and sustainability, community engagement, and cultural memory. 

You bring an international perspective to the Center. Tell us about your experience in academia in Jordan.

My work in Jordan started about four years ago, when I joined Columbia University’s Global Center in Amman to oversee the Mellon Fellowship Program for Emerging Displaced Scholars. This position provided an opportunity to meet experienced academicians who had been through many challenging circumstances. Notably, it triggered my interest in global education and international collaboration connecting scholars and universities in various ways. Managing American and Jordanian fellows in my recent position at the American Center of Research in Jordan (ACOR), I realized the value of international programs in fostering academic and cultural exchange and mutual understanding. They expand our horizons and free our thinking.   

What interests/excites you outside of your work?

I enjoy hiking and traveling and value good time with friends. I spend time reading and visiting art museums and historic sites. I also love animals and cherish my time with Chili, my eight-year-old dog. 

What has been your biggest surprise coming to Stanford?

I knew Stanford was a large university, but I did not expect such an enormous campus; I still have to use my GPS to get from one place to another. I have been impressed with the collegial standards and the academic environment it presents. I am thankful for how welcoming and helpful the Center's leadership and staff, and those I've met from the university, have been. There is so much to explore, and I look forward to enjoying the intellectual and cultural experiences the university offers.