THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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3 posts categorized "Modern history"

25 August 2017

New Online Resources on the History of Kuwait

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A series of archival documents that contain a wealth of information about Kuwait during the 1930s and 1940s have recently been digitized and uploaded on to the Qatar Digital Library. These documents are preserved in a file from the archive of the British Political Agency in Kuwait (now a part of the India Office Records) and consist of several reports covering a broad range of topics including Kuwait’s geography, history, flora and fauna, climate, leading personalities and political structure. In addition to what the files themselves discuss, as colonial records, they also illustrate the extent of British influence in Kuwait at this time, as well as provide a rich illustration of how Kuwait was conceptualised and recorded by British officials that were based in the country

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'File 4/1 General Information regarding Kuwait and Hinterland'
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The majority of the reports in the file are written by Lieutenant-Colonel Harold Richard Patrick Dickson (1881-1959), who served as Britain’s Political Agent in Kuwait from 1929 until 1936. Dickson continued living in Kuwait after serving as Political Agent (a role he held again temporarily in 1941) and stayed in the country until his death in 1959. During this time, Dickson wrote two books about Kuwait and the surrounding area, the encyclopaedic – if shamelessly Orientalist – work The Arab of the Desert: a Glimpse into Badawin [Bedouin] Life in Kuwait and Sau'di Arabia (George Allen & Unwin, 1949) and the later Kuwait & Her Neighbours (George Allen & Unwin, 1956) that was edited by the writer Clifford Witting. Both books, notably the former, reveal Dickson’s near obsessive interest in the minutiae of the history, culture and everyday life of the people of Kuwait and Gulf region, with a particular interest in the customs and traditions of the Bedouin.

Dickson’s wife, Violet Dickson (1896-1991), commonly known as Umm Saud (Mother of Saud) in Kuwait, shared many of her husband’s interests and also wrote about Kuwait, authoring both The Wild Flowers of Kuwait and Bahrain (George Allen & Unwin, 1955) and Forty Years in Kuwait (George Allen & Unwin, 1971). She stayed in the country after Dickson’s death, living in the couple’s long-term residence (that formerly served as Britain’s Political Agency) for many decades until she was forced to leave due to the Iraqi invasion of 1990. The building is now open to the public as the Dickson House Cultural Centre in Kuwait City. The couple’s daughter, Zahra Freeth (1925-2015), also wrote a number of books on Kuwait including Kuwait Was My Home (George Allen & Unwin, 1956) and A New Look at Kuwait (George Allen & Unwin, 1972).

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Dickson House Cultural Centre, Kuwait City
© Louis Allday, 2015

The reports written by Dickson in 1933 contain a diverse range of detailed information including descriptions of car routes between Kuwait and various other settlements in the region (including Basrah, Riyadh, Hasa and Qatif), insightful and frequently scathing character assessments of prominent figures in the country, as well as sketches of the different types of boat used in the country and lists of the species of fish in its waters. It is likely that the information contained in these notes was used by Dickson at a later date to compile his published works. For instance, The Arab of the Desert contains drawings of the different types of sailing vessel in Kuwait that are very similar to the aforementioned sketches contained in Dickson’s notes from almost two decades before.

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Examples of boats used in Kuwait, 1933
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In addition to Dickson’s reports, the recently digitised file contains a secret report on Kuwait that the Australian explorer, Alan Villiers – author of the well-known study of Arab sailors, Sons of Sinbad – was commissioned by the British authorities to write in 1939 (folios 160-183). The file also contains reports written by two of Dickson’s successors as Political Agent in Kuwait in the 1940s, Major Tom Hickinbotham (folios 187-198) and Major Maurice O’Connor Tandy (folios 226-228) as well as a Who’s Who of the leading personalities in Muscat (Oman) written by Captain J B Howes, the Political Agent in Muscat in 1942 (folios 199-209).

The full contents of this fascinating file – all written by Dickson unless stated otherwise – are as follows:

Louis Allday, Gulf History/Arabic Language Specialist
@Louis_Allday
 ccownwork

03 July 2017

Photographic Portraits of Tribal Leaders of the Trucial Coast c. 1939

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In 1939, the Trucial Coast States – the present day United Arab Emirates – were part of Britain’s Informal Empire in the Persian Gulf. Britain had effectively controlled this region since the early 19th century after it destroyed the fleet of its primary naval power, the Qawasim tribal confederation, and then concluded a series of treaties with its rulers. Although these agreements were in some ways beneficial to the ruling Shaikhs that signed them, they were often enforced by a mixture of coercion and intimidation. If a ruler was perceived to not be sufficiently cooperative or subservient, the British authorities had few qualms with ordering a bombardment of his fort or engineering the appointment of a replacement deemed more appropriate. As Britain's most senior official in the region remarked in 1929, the Royal Navy was "an efficacious and prompt weapon to deal with any recalcitrance."

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Left: Shaikh Ahmad as-Salf of Hafit [Jabal Hafeet], Na’im
Right: Shaikh Obaid bin Juma’, Beni Ka’ab
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However, on the eve of the Second World War, this long-standing arrangement was beginning to become unsettled. Colonial officials started to worry whether the combination of Britain’s treaties with the region’s rulers and the threat of the Royal Navy was enough to ensure that its status as the hegemonic power in the region would last. As such, they began to debate between themselves how Britain’s policy in the area – including the Trucial Coast specifically – should proceed and how its dominance could be maintained. Many files that discuss this issue in detail are held in the India Office Records (IOR) at the British Library.

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Left: Shaikh Sultan bin Saqr of Buraimi, Na’im
Right: Shaikh Mohamed bin Rahmah bin Salman of Sumaini, Al Bu Shams (Left) and Mudhaffar, Wali of Sohar (Right)
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One such file from 1939 (IOR/L/PS/12/3747) contains a series of photographic portraits of a number of tribal leaders from this period. Unfortunately, no context or details of the photographs are given in the file; regardless they offer a fascinating glimpse into the appearance and dress of the region’s inhabitants at this time and reveal the extent to which these have both changed to the present day. Each photograph gives the subject’s name and in some cases their position and/or tribal affiliation. It is interesting to note that most of the subjects are not from the most prominent ruling families of the region (who remain in power today), but rather from slightly less well-known branches and locations, including places that now form part of Oman. The final photograph in the series includes an image of slaves that were part of a Shaikh’s retinue, lamentably a widespread phenomenon in the region at the time.

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Left: Shaikh Ahmad al-Haiya’i of Dhank, Al Bu Shams (left) and his son (right)
Right: Shaikh Ibrahim bin Uthman, Abu Dhabi Wali (Centre)
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Left: Shaikh Mohammed bin Sultan of Dhank, Na’im
Right: Sultan ad-Damaki of Gatarah [?] (Left)
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This file is in the process of being digitized by the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership and these photos, as well as the rest of the file’s contents regarding British policy in the region, will appear online in high resolution on the Qatar Digital Library later this year.

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Rashid bin Hamad of Hamasah, Al Bu Shams (Centre); Shaikh Mohamed bin Hamad, younger brother of above (Left Centre); Son of Shaikh Rashid (Right Centre); Shaikh Ibrahim bin Uthman, Abu Dhabi Wali (Right)
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Primary Sources:
British Library, IOR/L/PS/12/3747, ‘Persian Gulf, Trucial Coast: Police of H.M.G., List of Trucial Sheikhs’

Secondary Sources:
Charles E. Davies, An Investigation into Qasimi Piracy, 1797-1820 (University of Exeter Press, 1997)
Rosemarie Said Zahlan, The Origins of the United Arab Emirates: a Political and Social History of the Trucial States (Macmillan, 1978)

Louis Allday, Gulf History/Arabic Language Specialist, British Library
 ccownwork

 

17 May 2016

Online Historical Resources for the Study of the Modern History of Bahrain and the Persian Gulf

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The Qatar Digital Library (QDL), launched by the British Library-Qatar Foundation Partnership in October 2014, contains a huge – and growing – number of British colonial documents related to the history of the Persian Gulf and broader Middle East from the 18th to 20th Century, all of which are now freely available to search and download. This post will introduce two series of documents on the QDL that are useful for those interested in the history of Bahrain and the surrounding region in the first half of the twentieth century; namely the Intelligence Summaries of the British Political Agency in Bahrain and the Government of Bahrain’s Annual Administrative Reports.

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Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1361 (Feb. 1942 - Jan. 1943). British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/7
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Bahrain Intelligence Summaries (1934-1949)

These summaries consist of fortnightly intelligence reports that were composed by the British Political Agent in Bahrain and distributed to a number of British officials in London, India and throughout the Middle East. They were subsequently grouped by year and filed in the archive of the Political Agency. These previously confidential records constitute a remarkable historical resource regarding a fascinating time in Bahrain’s history. Throughout this period, Bahrain was at the centre of Britain’s Informal Empire in the Gulf and Charles Belgrave, the British adviser of the country’s rulers, was a hugely influential figure in the country. From the mid-1930s onwards, Bahrain’s oil industry began to rapidly develop, leading to substantial changes in Bahraini society and this transformation is documented in detail in these reports. They are also a useful resource concerning the history of the Persian Gulf region more broadly, since events in Kuwait, Qatar, the Trucial Coast (modern-day UAE), Oman, Saudi Arabia and occasionally Iraq and Iran, are all mentioned too.
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Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1358 (February 1939 - February 1940). British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/4
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The summaries constitute an important historical record related to a wide range of topics including slave trafficking and smuggling, the development of the oil industry, labour movements, international shipping and trade, British colonial history, the Gulf’s relationship with the Arab World (notably the Palestinian cause), power struggles between – and within – the region’s ruling families, the impact of the Second World War and the local reaction to international events (such as the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and the partition of Palestine). The records also contain details of every visit made to Bahrain by British and foreign notables during this period, as well as weather and meteorological data.

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Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1357 (March 1938 - February 1939). British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/3
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Alongside serious intelligence reporting related to political, military and economic developments in the region, the summaries also contain dozens of surreal and humorous vignettes concerning everyday life in Bahrain, such as the wide-spread popularity of a restaurant that served alcoholic cider, as well as several stories regarding the misdemeanours of members of Bahrain’s ruling family. A number of tragic tales are also mentioned in the reports including the death of a Bahraini fisherman after he was impaled by a sword fish and the drowning of forty pilgrims in the so-called ‘Nebi Saleh Tragedy’.


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Government of Bahrain Administrative Report for the Years 1926-1937. British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750
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Changes in the social and cultural life of the region are also documented in the summaries. Incidents recorded include a football match between a Bahraini team and a team of Sudanese and Italian ARAMCO workers in Saudi Arabia that had to be abandoned after members of the Bahraini team attacked the referee, and the first boxing tournament ever held by a Bahraini sporting club. The growing popularity of cinema in the country is also frequently mentioned.

The summaries can be accessed at the following links: 1934, 1935-37, 1938-40, 1941-42, 1943-44, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949


Government of Bahrain Annual Administrative Reports (1926-1944)

The Government of Bahrain’s Annual Reports that were compiled by the aforementioned Charles Belgrave from another significant historical resource for the study of the modern history of Bahrain. These reports document the significant expansion in government services that occurred during this period and contain detailed information related to Bahrain’s finances, oil industry, education, health and judicial systems, municipal projects, police force, pearl diving industry and several other topics.
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Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1358 (February 1939 - February 1940)
. British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/4
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The reports are illustrated throughout including photographs that depict the visits of dignitaries such as Ibn Sa’ud, the King of Saudi Arabia and show the numerous municipal buildings that were constructed during a period of frenetic expansion including hospitals, law courts and schools. They also contain a number of tables, graphs and other statistical information.

A detailed administrative report for the years 1926-1937 can be found here and individual annual reports (that use the Islamic hijri calendar) at the following links: 1348-49 (June 1929 – May 1930), 1350 (May 1931 – May 1932), 1351 (May 1932 – April 1933), 1356 (March 1937 - February 1938), 1357 (March 1938 - February 1939), 1358 (February 1939 - February 1940), 1359 (February 1940 - February 1941), 1360 (January 1941 - February 1942), 1361 (February 1942 - January 1943), 1362 (January 1943 - December 1943), 1363 (January 1944 - December 1944)

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Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1356 (March 1937 - February 1938). British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/2  noc

The two series profiled in this article are merely an example of the wealth of rich archival resources now available on the QDL. Among a vast array of other materials the site also now holds copies of the Annual Administrative Reports of the Persian Gulf Political Residency and the Muscat Political Agency from 1873 until 1947 (1873-74, 1874-75, 1875-76, 1876-77, 1877-78, 1878-79, 1879-1880, 1880-81, 1881-82, 1882-83, 1883-84, 1884-85, 1885-86, 1886-87, 1887-88, 1888-89, 1889-90, 1890-91, 1891-92, 1892-93, 1893-94 1894-95, 1895-96, 1896-97, 1897-98, 1898-99, 1899-1900, 1900-01, 1901-02, 1902-03, 1903-04, 1904-05, 1905-10, 1911-14, 1915-19, 1920-24, 1925-30, 1931-35 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939-44, 1945-46, 1947) and the Annual Administration Reports of the Political Agency in Bahrain from 1921 until 1949 (1921-1930, 1931-34, 1935-39, 1940-43, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949).

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Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1361 (February 1942 - January 1943)
. British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/7  noc

Together, all of these documents form an invaluable historical resource, both for researchers who were previously unable to visit the British Library in London and for students keen to gain experience using primary documents. New material is regularly uploaded to the QDL site and will continue to be added until at least the end of 2018.


Louis Allday, Gulf History/Arabic Language Specialist
@Louis_Allday
 ccownwork