Access Oman history online, thanks to the British Library
May 5, 2014 | 12:00 AM
A picture of ‘Muscat’ taken by Rev. Edwin Aubrey Storrs-Fox in January 1918 - © British Library Board.

Muscat: The British Library has begun digitising Oman's history, to make documents accessible to anyone with a computer, anywhere in the world.

"In this phase of the project, we are digitising approximately 100 files on Oman, which is about 20,000 pages. These papers range in date from the 1750s to the mid-20th century.

"For the first time, important documents from key periods in Omani history will be accessible online, albeit seen mainly from the perspective of the English East India Company and British officials from that time. Letters in Arabic add to the richness of the collection, making it a hugely significant resource for anyone interested in Gulf history," said Francis Owtram, Gulf History Specialist from the British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership.

The documents concentrates on relations with the British over political matters, trade and relationships with other European powers, such as France.

"There is also a wide variety of materials giving detailed reports of the geography and mineral wealth of Oman based upon expeditions to remote regions, together with fascinating photographs, such as those of the ancient frankincense port at Khor Rori in Dhofar. The project will also make available recordings of Omani traditional music and paintings, such as of Muscat's historic harbour guarded by its two imposing forts," he said.

The digitisation process started in January 2013, and historians believe that this project, and the involvement of the Qatar National Library, will inspire similar institutions to develop programmes like this to transform the way people are able to perform research about this part of the world.

Regarding its importance, Owtram said the digitised documents would be helpful to those studying Oman.

Easy access
"Students and researchers will benefit from easy access to digitised copies of original records. The enhanced catalogue records will allow them to find relevant files from both the Bushire Residency and the Bahrain Agency collections.  By opening up these resources, the project will improve understanding of the Islamic world, Arabic cultural heritage and the modern history of the Gulf.

"People will be able to access these materials and immerse themselves in this part of the world — wherever they are. The British Library Qatar Foundation partnership will both push research into new directions, and pull academic communities together," Francis Owtram said.

He added that the history of Oman is important to the world for a number of reasons. "With its diverse population, distinctive range of mountains and seasonally verdant southern region of Dhofar, Oman has a unique cultural heritage amongst the Gulf states. It occupies a position of great geo-strategic importance at the entrance to the Gulf."

Following the winds of the Indian monsoon in their dhows, Omanis successfully traded along the shores of Arabia, Africa, and India.

Although Oman has had to contend with a number of foreign occupations, from the Persians to the Portuguese, Oman has a long history as an independent state.

Regarding the two former British ambassadors who recently wrote a book on the Oman-UK relationship, entitled Unshook Till The End Of Time, Owtram said it is an interesting and well-written book by two people with first-hand experience of British-Omani relations, which still remain strong today.

Change the way
"It can be noted that the book references some India Office Records in the British Library, as well as making use of other research based on these records. The portal will change the way in which writers, students, and academics will be able to research this part of the world and develop studies, such as this. Importantly, the archival content being made accessible by the programme will further reveal the Gulf's connections with Britain and the wider world.

"New insights into British colonial and commercial activities will be revealed b

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