Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 September 2019

The Arabian Gulf Digital Archive is a window into the UAE’s rich past

This important initiative offers insight into the evolution of the country and the Gulf region

Sheikh Rashid inspects pearls from the Gulf at Garrard jewellers in Regent Street. Courtesy Arabian Gulf Digital Archive
Sheikh Rashid inspects pearls from the Gulf at Garrard jewellers in Regent Street. Courtesy Arabian Gulf Digital Archive

Over the past week, The National has been reaching into the lucky-dip that is the Arabian Gulf Digital Archive, pulling out priceless insights into the history of the nation and the wider region.

Here, a record of the visit to New York in 1961 of Sheikh Shakhbut, the ruler of Abu Dhabi, and his subsequent determination, recorded in the words of a British diplomat, that the future capital of the UAE should retain its Arab character and not be transformed into “a hideous American emporium”.

There, a collection of black and white photographs, moments in time ranging from early harbour work in an unrecognisably sleepy Dubai, in which traditional wind towers are the tallest structures gracing the skyline, to intimate glimpses of Emirati leaders travelling the world in search of inspiration for their nation in waiting.

Few photographs have captured such poignant historical perspective such as that of Sheikh Rashid, ruler of Dubai, examining pearls from the Gulf in a London jewellers in 1959.

The hard business of pearling had been the lifeblood of the Trucial States for generations before the industry was destroyed in the 1930s by the development of cultured pearls. Behind Sheikh Rashid’s thoughtful expression, as he gazes at the bounty of the past, is the knowledge that the Gulf states were on the threshold of the even greater economic miracle of oil.

The Arabian Gulf Digital Archive, a treasure trove of more than a quarter of a million documents and photographs digitised in collaboration with the UK’s National Archives, is much more than simply an entertaining trip down memory lane.

Oral history can be passed on from generation to generation, but inevitably the clarity and accuracy of distant events once witnessed in person fades with each retelling.

Available free online to all, the archive is nothing less than the region’s collective memory, preserved in sharp focus. As such it offers an invaluable insight into the evolution of the UAE and the region, instilling a sense of history and continuity that can only help the generations of today and tomorrow to make better sense of the future.

Updated: July 25, 2019 06:49 PM

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