British Library, Qatar Foundation, to work together to digitize historical documents

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A partnership exploring ways to transform online resources for the study of the history, science and culture of the Arabian Gulf was announced yesterday by Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development and the British Library.

Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, Chairperson of Qatar Foundation, and Baroness Tessa Blackstone, Chairman of the British Library Board, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) establishing the partnership, which aims to make tens of thousands of documents – including political records, letters and maps – and medieval manuscripts relating to centuries of history of the Arabian Gulf available online to pupils, students and scholars across the Gulf region and around the world.

The partnership will involve curators and experts from the UK national library scoping a four-year project to digitise India Office Records relating to the Gulf, spanning a period from the middle of the 18th century to 1951. In addition, the project will involve the digitisation of manuscripts that demonstrate the influence of the Islamic world in the fields of science and medicine during the medieval period.

The goal of the project is to make this treasure trove of historic material available online in English and Arabic, alongside scholarly and contextual commentary. Users ranging from schoolchildren to academic researchers to family historians will benefit from a rich and accessible resource for study – both in the Gulf region and throughout the world.

Following the initial development of online portals to this content, the project would seek to bring together records and archives held by other institutions, across Europe and the Gulf region, with websites hosted in London and Doha developing as regional hubs for the delivery of the full range of material. In this way, diverse and geographically dispersed items can be brought together virtually, along with interpretative material and teaching resources to make them accessible and relevant to a wide online audience.

Following the signing of the MOU, the scoping phase of the project is scheduled to take place over the next six months, after which a detailed work plan for the digitisation project will be devised.

Speaking at a ceremony to mark the signing of the MOU, Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned said: “Qatar Foundation is proud to enter into a partnership with the British Library, an institution that has an international reputation for supporting research and scholarship. Qatar Foundation will also work closely with the British Library to ensure that these regional hubs are not used solely by researchers and academics but are open to the public so as to enable the young in particular to get involved in discovering, retracing and living their history. We hope that this will be a long term partnership which will benefit both sides.”

The British Library’s Director of Scholarship and Collections, Phil Spence, said: “The British Library is delighted to be working in partnership with Qatar Foundation on this exciting project, which we hope will provide unprecedented online access to a wealth of original documents and manuscripts relating to Gulf history. By sharing the expertise of our curators, our technical know-how and elements of our unrivalled collections, we look to develop a long-term and strategic relationship with Qatar Foundation, to the benefit of users around the world.”

Source: British Library

Sharan Newman