Hodder & Stoughton has pre-empted a new history of Mesopotamia, The Princess and the Key, by Oxford academic and debut author Dr Moudhy Al-Rashid.
Senior commissioning editor Anna Baty secured world all languages rights from Doug Young at the PEW Literary Agency. Alane Mason, vice-president and senior editor at W W Norton pre-empted the book for North American publication. Both publishers intend to release the book in spring 2024.
The blurb reads: “Ancient Mesopotamia, known as the ‘cradle of civilisation’, saw the birth of the world’s first cities, the first writing system, the first historical records and much else that went on to revolutionise societies around the world. In The Princess and the Key, historian Dr Moudhy Al-Rashid will bring us closer to this ancient past and will vividly describe the lives of the people who lived in this extraordinary society.
“This history is told through the contents of a 2,500-year-old museum; these objects, collected together by a royal princess in the 6th century BC, are all from different periods of Mesopotamia’s history. Each object reveals aspects of society and culture, from war to education and language, and from women’s rights to religion and the divine."
Mesopotamia is broadly known as the region in south-western Asia where the world’s earliest civilization developed, covering the area that is now eastern Syria, south-eastern Turkey and most of Iraq.
Al-Rashid said: “The hundreds of thousands of clay cuneiform tablets from ancient Mesopotamia tell wonderfully relatable stories — from a parent desperately trying to soothe a baby to a brewer collecting ingredients to make beer. These artefacts not only bring this history to life, but also help us to investigate what history meant back then, what it means today, and what we can learn from the distant past.”
Baty commented: “The Princess and the Key shows us that people we think of as 'ancient' in fact had a highly developed sense of their own history. Moudhy’s book will do for Mesopotamia what Mary Beard did for Ancient Rome, breathing life and colour into a complex and surprisingly modern society.”
A junior research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Wolfson College, Al-Rashid specialises in the languages and history of ancient Mesopotamia. She has a BA from Columbia University in philosophy, and after a single day of learning about cuneiform texts at a summer school, decided to pursue the subject with a master’s degree. She went on to get a doctorate at the University of Oxford.
She has written for academic and popular journals, including History Today, on topics as diverse as mental illness in ancient Mesopotamia to Late Assyrian scholarly networks. In addition to her writing, she has also appeared on several podcasts, including the BBC Podcasts “Making History” and “You’re Dead to Me”. Through her Twitter account, which has almost 30,000 followers, she hopes to give ancient Mesopotamia as wide an audience as possible and to humanise its long history. Originally from Saudi Arabia, she now lives near Oxford.