Now, access Omani history online
October 21, 2014 | 12:00 AM
The project involves digitisation of approximately 100 files related to Oman, which is about 20,000 pages. Photo– Times of Oman

Muscat: For the first time, a new bilingual, online portal providing access to previously undigitised British Library archive materials relating to Oman's history and Arabic science was launched by the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership, on Wednesday.

The project is digitising approximately 100 files related to Oman, which is about 20,000 pages.

Speaking to Times of Oman, Francis Owtram, Gulf History Specialist at the British Library said, "I am really pleased that the launch of the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership's portal – the Qatar Digital Library – is putting a number of historical documents relating to Oman online for the first time.
This will be a fantastic resource for the research of Oman's history and I would encourage everyone to visit the website at"

The portal will demonstrate significant influence of Arabic scholars in the fields of science, medicine, astronomy, mathematics and geography dating back to the 9th century.

It will also explore the Gulf's connections with Britain and the wider world, revealing new insights into the British colonial and commercial activity in the region during the 19th century.

Several important documents from key periods in Omani history will be accessible online, mainly from the perspective of the English East India Company and British officials from that time.

The documents concentrate 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 information of the geography and mineral wealth of Oman-based on 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.

The British Library has been working in partnership with the Qatar Foundation and Qatar National Library over the last three years to develop the portal.

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.

Educating students
The portal will help teachers and academics to educate students about Arabic cultural heritage and the modern history of the Gulf.

This comes in the wake of new research has revealed that two out of three (69 per cent) secondary school teachers do not believe enough is being done by secondary schools to educate children about Gulf history and Arabic cultural heritage, while 41 per cent of academics say more could be done at universities.

The portal provides contextual material to help teachers and students make the best use of the 500,000 digitised pages available.

This includes 475,000 pages from the India Office Records and 25,000 pages of medieval Arabic manuscripts.

The partnership's research shows that teachers want to increase knowledge of Gulf history and contribution of Arab countries to global science not only to improve understanding of the region (71 per cent), but also to make future generations of students better equipped for globalisation (67 per cent) and to maintain the UK's world-leading status in international cultural, social and political engagements (62 per cent).

Importantly, over half (52 per cent) of the teachers surveyed also thought that the UK would be made more economically competitive if knowledge of Gulf history and Arabic heritage were increased.

Dr James Onley, senior lecturer in middle eastern history at Exeter University and editor of the Journal of Arabian Studies, said, "The Qatar Digital Library contains the world's largest digital collection of historical records on the Gulf Arab states and Iran.  Its launch is a major milestone in the study of these countries.  

"Now anyone c

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