Portal gives teachers gateway to Arabic studies and new research on Gulf

  • Teachers say learning about Gulf will help to prepare students for globalisation and will make the UK more economically competitive
  • 69% of secondary school teachers and 50% of academics do not believe enough is being done to educate school children about British historical connections to the Gulf
  • Dr. James Onley: portal “will transform our understanding of the region”

A new bi-lingual, online portal providing access to previously undigitised British Library archive materials relating to Gulf history and Arabic science was launched by the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership today.

The portal (www.qdl.qa) will help teachers and academics to educate students about Arabic cultural heritage and the modern history of the Gulf. This comes as new research from the Partnership today reveals that two in three (69%) secondary school teachers do not believe enough is being done by secondary schools to educate school children about Gulf history and Arabic cultural heritage, while 41% of academics say more could be done at universities*.

The new portal, called the Qatar Digital Library, 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 Arab nations’ contribution to global science not only to improve understanding of the Islamic world (71%), but also to make future generations of students better equipped for globalisation (67%) and to maintain the UK’s world-leading status in international cultural, social and political engagements (62%). Importantly, over half (52%) of teachers surveyed also thought that the UK would be made more economically competitive if knowledge of Gulf history and Arabic heritage was increased.

Dr James Onley, Senior Lecturer in Middle Eastern History at Exeter University and Editor of 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 can access the region’s fascinating past from anywhere. This easy access will enable scholars around the world to discover new things and write new histories that will expand, and ultimately transform, our understanding of the region.”

According to the findings, the barriers cited for not teaching the subjects at schools and universities include a lack of demand from students for the courses themselves (56%); a lack of government funding for new teaching materials (40%); a lack of understanding amongst policy makers of the relevance and impact of Middle East and Arabic history on the UK (43%); a lack of primary source materials to engage students (31%); and a low number of examination bodies able to test the subjects (31%).

Keith Simpson, former Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Foreign Secretary, said: “The British Library’s partnership with the Qatar Foundation is a superb initiative and will provide an invaluable bilingual resource about the Arabic-speaking world. Digitising half a million pages is a vast undertaking and will provide fascinating insights into the Gulf's connections with Britain and the wider world. This will be of particular interest to schools and universities.”

Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, said: “One of the greatest barriers to furthering research of Arabic cultural heritage and British history in the Gulf has been physical. Previously, you had to go to the British Library to retrieve an archive item. Now, in one click of a button, that barrier has been lifted and global research on the topic will progress more effectively than ever before. We now have free and open access to hundreds of thousands of manuscripts, archives, maps, sound recordings and photographs from the region – all digitised in the highest quality. This project converts stored knowledge at the Library to shared knowledge, globally.”

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.

Dr Claudia Lux, Project Director of Qatar National Library, said: “We are glad to partner with the British Library on this ambitious and unique project. The huge quantity of priceless historical material that has been placed on the Qatar Digital Library portal are made available online for the first time, can be accessed by anyone around the world, and shall play a crucial role in raising awareness and sharing knowledge about the Gulf’s history and Arab Islamic Sciences.

“The digitised materials will not only preserve the region’s heritage for the future generations but will also deliver an unprecedented resource of huge benefit to everyone interested in the region’s history, heritage and culture.”

The portal is available now at www.qdl.qa and will demonstrate the 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.

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Notes to Editors

* All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,101 teachers. Fieldwork was undertaken between 22nd September - 1st October. The survey was carried out online.

For more information on the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership please contact:

Antonia Charles or Jack Storry

Tel: 02070257537

Email: britishlibraryteam@grayling.com

Web: www.bl.uk/qatar

Twitter:

@BLQatar - The British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership

@QNLib – Qatar National Library

Qatar National Library – Bridging with knowledge Qatar’s Heritage and Future

Qatar National Library (QNL) is a non-profit organisation under the umbrella of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF). QNL is supporting Qatar on its journey from a carbon-based economy to knowledge-based economy by providing resources to students, researchers, and the community in Qatar. It was announced in November 2012 by Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development.

QNL carries out its mission through three functions: National Library, University and Research Library, and a Metropolitan Public Library of the digital age. The National Library function collects and provides access to global knowledge relevant to Qatar and the region. It also collects, preserves, and provides access to heritage content and materials about Qatar and the region. The University and Research Library function supports education and research at all levels by providing printed and digital library materials for students and researchers. Metropolitan Public Library delivers library services and information for everyone to enjoy reading, meet people, and become information literate.

MEDIA CONTACT

For more information about Qatar National Library please contact:

Gihan M. Baraka +974 44546034 gbaraka@qf.org.qa

Learn more about Qatar National Library online at www.qnl.qa

Twitter: @QNLib

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The British Library
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