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In spite of legally abolishing slavery in its Empire in 1833, the British Government struggled to eradicate the practice in its protectorates in the Gulf.
Manumission, Not Abolition: British Mediations over Slavery in the Gulf
The Persia Collection: casting light on Britain’s thorny relationship with Persia [Iran] throughout the 1930s, Second World War, and Anglo-Soviet Occupation.
Finding Aid: The Persia Collection in the Political (External) Department Records
A guide to the Departmental Papers: Political and Secret Separate (or Subject) Files (IOR/L/PS/10), describing what the files represent, their subject matter, how they are organised, and the different types of papers they contain.
Finding Aid: Departmental Papers: Political and Secret Separate (or Subject) Files
Only by mapping and surveying Aden fully were the British able to plan for its reconstruction and fortification, thereby facilitating trade and other shipping to and from India and beyond.
Mapping Aden: The British Occupation of A Vital Trading Port
The life and death of Claudius James Rich, author of 'Narrative of a Residence in Koordistan' and the East India Company’s Resident at Baghdad.
Claudius James Rich: Administrator, traveller, author, and collector of manuscripts and antiquities
The EIC’s departure from Bushire in 1769 was one example of how, in the 17th and 18th centuries, groups of traders would settle, then relocate, along the Gulf coast with great adaptability, going where they could freely carry out their business.
The Mobility of Merchants in the Pursuit of Profit: The English Withdraw from Bushire
Lewis Pelly, Political Resident in the Persian Gulf 1862–72, witnessed rapid expansion in the value of trade in the region as well as political upheaval and crisis caused by famine.
Economy in Turmoil: Gulf Trade Hit by Piracy and Famine
The vast archive known as the India Office Records, occupying approximately nine miles of shelving in the British Library, contains the documents created or received in London by three organisations crucial to the British colonial effort in the period 1600–1858.
The India Office Records
How a state of the art communications technology arrived in Bahrain in 1916.
The Coming of the Wireless Telegraph to Bahrain
al-Bīrūnī’s Qānūn is the most complete astronomical encyclopedia of the Middle Ages. It represents the most successful attempt to correct and rewrite Ptolemy’s Almagest, and was based on the results of three centuries of research in Islamic lands.
al-Bīrūnī: a high point in the Development of Islamic Astronomy
A little known first-hand account, that the British Agents in Bahrain garnered by chance, sheds light on William Henry Irvine Shakespear’s death.
The Death of Captain Shakespear
In 1910, British officials discovered that the Persian authorities at Bandar-e Lengeh were charging travellers a domestic rate to travel to Bahrain, reigniting a decades-long dispute over Persian claims to the islands.
Passports and Politics: Britain and Persia’s Disagreements over Bahrain
Verbal abuse and physical attacks from those amongst which he lived, and denigration from foreign visitors; all part of the job of being a British Native Agent in Sharjah.
People in the Gulf: Native Agents at Sharjah
During WWII, secret instructions for the interception of post passing through the Gulf were circulated to Political Agents in Bahrain, Kuwait and Muscat.
Invisible Ink: Intercepting Post in Second World War
An overview of the key moments from the history of interaction between the British and Iran, as illustrated through the India Office Records.
Country Profile: Iran
An overview of the key moments from the history of interaction between the British and Bahrain, as illustrated through the India Office Records.
Country Profile: Bahrain
Salim Rashid Suri, an Omani ṣawt singer and oud player became famous as the ‘singing sailor’ and for developing a truly unique style, which took influence from musical sources across the Middle East and India.
The Singing Sailor, Salim Rashid Suri: A Ṣawt Musician from Oman
Around 150 AD Claudius Ptolemaeus wrote the great handbook of astronomy, later known as the Almagest, which became the prevalent handbook for the knowledge of the stars in Europe for about 1500 years. The text was handed on to the Europeans through Arabic translations in the ninth century AD, and translated into Latin in the twelfth century.
The Arabic Translations of Ptolemy's Almagest
Until the 19th century, European powers considered much of the Gulf coastline to be hazardous, but the 1820 survey recorded vital details that contributed to later British involvement in the region.
Important Work: The British 1820 Survey that Charted the Gulf for the First Time
A 1787 letter requesting plants from the Persian Gulf for a newly established botanical garden in Kolkata illuminates the way in which the pursuit of scientific knowledge became part of the EIC’s global economic endeavour.
A Quest for Knowledge: The Basra Date Palm, the Botanical Garden in Bengal
A vast range of material that spans several thousand years, including a large collection of Arabic manuscripts and material related to the Gulf, is held in the British Library collection.
The British Library: How Many Institutions Became One
An East India Company diary from the early nineteenth century demonstrates some of the challenges encountered when cataloguing older India Office records.
Cataloguing Challenges: The Bushire Residency Diaries 1803-07 as an Example
During the Anglo-Soviet occupation of Iran, Britain established the Anglo-Iranian Relief Fund not only to deliver humanitarian aid to the Iranian people, but also to justify and promote its military presence inside the country.
British humanitarian efforts as propaganda in Iran during the Second World War
New communication technologies transformed bookkeeping practice at the British Residency in Bushire.
Telegraphs and Typewriters: The Impact of Technology on Bookkeeping at Bushire
During the early ʿAbbāsid period (ninth century CE), a diverse group of scholars collaborated on the long-term project of translating an elaborate work of pure geometry dealing with the properties of the parabola, ellipse and hyperbola – Apollonius’ Conics.
Translating a Work of Higher Mathematics
During the first four centuries of Islam, almost all the Greek scientific literature available in manuscripts was translated into Arabic in an effort, centred on Baghdad, known as the ‘translation movement’.
Scientific Translators and Powerful Patrons
In the thirteenth century, Ibn al-Nafīs wrote a substantial commentary on Avicenna’s entire Canon of Medicine thereby revising existing understandings of human physiology and anatomy. His theory of the pulmonary transit of blood formed a cornerstone of the modern theory of blood circulation.
Ibn al-Nafīs and Pulmonary Transit
Cultural appropriation was as much a part of empire as military force. The use of ‘Islamic’ seals by British colonial officials is one example of this.
Performing Authority: the ‘Islamic’ Seals of British Colonial Officers
From the early days of its existence, the East India Company sought a secure base, known as a factory, in the Gulf from which to conduct trade with Persia. In 1763, it finally established a base which would provide some continuity to its operations, namely Bushire.
The Political Residency, Bushire
It’s hard to imagine a natural resource as important to the history of the development of the Gulf States as oil. But in the early days of oil exploration, nothing was more important than water.
Water, not Oil, the Most Valuable Resource in the Gulf
While Britain’s more distinct political and strategic interests in the Gulf grew over time, it was initially a matter of textile trading with Persia that first lured them to the shores of the Gulf.
Foundation of an Empire: The East India Company’s Early Trade in Silk and Wool
The peoples of the Islamic world excelled at designing and building water-clocks as these manuscripts show.
Robots, Musicians and Monsters: The World’s Most Fantastic Clocks
Great Britain abolished the slave trade in its Empire in 1807, yet not only did it persist in the Gulf into the latter half of the nineteenth century, it flourished amid ineffectual British efforts towards its suppression.
Britain’s Ineffectual Efforts to Suppress the Slave Trade
Against the dramatic international backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, the British in Constantinople, Syria and Persia ensured that they kept one step ahead of a mysterious French officer.
Napoleon’s Agent: Monitoring the Movements of Monsieur Romieu in the East
During a period often characterised as one of decay and decline, the Andaluso-Tunisian astronomer Ibn al-Raqqām wrote his Risālah fī ‘ilm al-ẓilāl, the most important treatise on sundials of the Islamic West. The instruments he describes are much more elaborate and sophisticated than the surviving examples of Medieval sundials from al-Andalus and the Maghrib.
Ibn al-Raqqām’s treatise on sundials
In the ninth century, Ḥunayn ibn Ishāq decided to explain Greek terminology, instead of simply adopting it, in his translations of the medical treatises of Galen. In doing this he helped establish Arabic as an international language of science.
Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq and the Rise of Arabic as a Language of Science
The movement for political reform in Kuwait in 1938 signified change in the region and highlights the country’s – and Britain’s – response to the ideas and forces that delivered it.
Kuwait’s Majlis Movement: National and Regional Developments Brought into Focus
When and where did the sciences practised in the Islamic world during the so-called Golden Age originate?
The Beginnings of Science in the Islamic World
An Islamic seal with an unusual bird design appears on a witness statement delivered by the Sheikh of Dubai to the British Resident in The Gulf, following a fatal gun battle in Dubai in 1910.
Guns ‘n’ Seals: An Unusual Seal indicates Cultural Influences in Dubai in 1910
Over several centuries, the close relationship between individual explorers of the Arabian Peninsula and the British Empire was made clear in often unpublished journals and accounts held in the India Office Records.
Thesiger’s Clothes: Empire and Exploration in the Arabian Peninsula
Astrology was considered a scientific discipline in the Middle Ages, when political powers patronised astronomical research that was considered necessary for obtaining ‘scientific’ astrological predictions.
Sahl ibn Bishr and the Rise of Astrology in Abbasid Times
During the American Civil War (1861–65) cotton supplies to Britain’s textile mills dwindled, causing a boom in production elsewhere in the Empire.
How the American Civil War Caused a Boom in Cotton in Persia
An Italian bombing raid brought Bahrain into the Second World War’s ‘zone of operations’, sparking fear amongst Bahrainis and concerns amongst the British over the safety of the islands’ strategic oil installations.
The Second World War Comes to Bahrain
From 1900 to 1933 the Persian Oil Concession was the backdrop to a stand-off between the British and newly-renamed Iran.
From Persia to Iran: the Politics of the Change of Name and its Impact on the Oil Concession
Growing tensions between the British and the Sheikh of Dubai led to a gun battle in 1910 that cost numerous lives and did long-term damage to relations between the British and locals on the Trucial Coast.
The Dubai Incident, 1910: A Gun Battle that Damaged British relations with the Trucial Coast
Pesta and Rifi Songs, which developed in the twentieth century from Iraqi maqam, became more popular because they were recorded on shellac and broadcast throughout Iraq in the mid-century.
Love and Separation in Baghdad: Pesta and Rifi Songs on Shellac Discs
Among pre-modern Arabic scholars, the Almagest was generally regarded as the most authoritative work on astronomy. This esteem for Ptolemy's text, however, contrasted with a common practice among Arabic readers not to consult the Almagest directly but to rely on later commentaries for studying Ptolemy's theories.
Arabic Commentators on Ptolemy's Almagest
Papers highlighting a difference in 1915 between Western and Arab interpretations of judicial procedure in Bahrain may not be representative of the history of Britain’s jurisdiction in the Gulf as a whole.
Khidma: Britain’s Pragmatic Approach to Justice in the Gulf
Mohamed Bin Fares and Dhahi Bin Walid are regarded as the founders of the traditional urban Gulf musical genre ṣawt, which is still performed in the region.
The Founders of Bahraini Sawt Music: Mohamed Bin Fares and Dhahi Bin Walid
An overview of records on the Qatar Digital Library originating from the Political (External) Department (IOR/L/PS/12), including a description of the records and the subjects they cover.
Finding Aid: Political (External) Department Records
A government department unique in its scope and power, the India Office had a profound impact on the history of the Gulf.
The India Office: The Government, in London, of British India
For eight hundred years, the Arabic scientific tradition was superior to that found in western Eurasia. It gave birth to new theories and fields of scientific inquiry that laid the foundations for the Scientific Revolution, and continued to flourish thereafter.
Arabic Scientific Tradition
An overview of the key moments from the history of interaction between the British and Oman, as illustrated through the India Office Records.
Country Profile: Oman
At the time of Sheikh Jāsim bin Muḥammad Āl Thānī’s death in 1913, his great wealth was revealed to the British in intelligence reports sent by Yūsuf bin Aḥmad Kanoo.
A Considerable Fortune: The Wealth, and Death, of Sheikh Jāsim bin Muḥammad Āl Thānī
Kuwait has maintained a thriving traditional music culture; in particular bahri, or sea music, and ṣawt have remained at the heart of the music scene.
Hidden Treasures: Reflections on Traditional Music in Kuwait
The Private Papers of One of the Gulf’s Most Important Political Residents, 1862–72, provide a fascinating insight into British Policy in the period as well as providing a more personal insight into the life of a British official.
Lewis Pelly’s Private Papers
In medieval Islamic societies, education in the mathematical sciences was based not on solving problems, or producing new results, but rather on careful study of the accomplishments of past masters.
Studying the Mathematical Sciences
Former slaves employed in the Indian Navy’s crews in the mid-19th century often exploited the itinerant existence of naval vessels to escape servitude.
Between Freedom and Slavery: The Employment of Runaway Slaves in the Indian Navy
The words camphor, lemon, syrup and tamarind all derive from Arabic formularies – books in which Arabic-speaking physicians and pharmacists preserved and adapted the knowledge of earlier civilisations and presented new drugs to the public.
Medieval Arabic Formularies: Compounds and Simples
An overview of the key moments from the history of interaction between the British and Baluchistan and Makran, as illustrated through the India Office Records.
Profile: British Baluchistan and Makran
In the Sultanate of Oman, traditional music, poetry and dance are still part and parcel of everyday life and national celebrations alike.
Sea meets Desert: Reflections on Traditional Music in Oman
The British Government had a strong interest in Kharg, a small, strategically placed island in the Gulf.
A Strategic Position: British Seizures of the Island of Kharg
From its origins as a small London enterprise, the East India Company (EIC) emerged as a powerful commercial and political organisation, whose presence in the Gulf helped shape the region’s modern history.
A Brief History of the English East India Company 1600–1858
Bahrain’s Order in Council gave the Political Agent the power to, on one hand, issue birth certificates, and on the other, to rule on capital punishment for convicted criminals.
Births, Marriages, Deaths: Bahrain’s ‘Order in Council’ in Action
Ptolemaic astronomy became known in mediaeval Europe mainly through translations from Arabic. Latin translations of the Almagest reflect the complex tradition of Ptolemy in the Arab world and show the translators' individual approaches to a demanding and unfamiliar science.
The Latin Reception of the Arabic Tradition of the Almagest
Upon the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, instructions sent to the Native Agent at Sharjah on how to visibly mourn her death reveal aspects of the construction of empire via ritual mourning practices.
The Death of Queen Victoria: the Politics of Mourning for the British in the Gulf
The struggle for power in Muscat 1866–68 following the death, in suspicious circumstances, of Sayyid Thuwaynī bin Sa‘īd Āl Bū Sa‘īd, Sultan of Muscat.
Assassination and Intrigue in Muscat 1866–68
Not only did the Asian subcontinent’s hot and humid climate present a significant threat to the health of British administrators, but it also presented new challenges to their business of recordkeeping.
A Nineteenth-Century Approach to the Conservation of Government Records
Following the formation of Saudi Arabia in 1932, Britain continued to maintain close relations with the new state’s founder and ruler, King Ibn Sa‘ūd, although it would eventually be supplanted by the United States in its role as Saudi Arabia’s key western sponsor and protector.
Britain, Ibn Sa‘ūd, and Saudi Arabia, 1932-1953
How did a fourteenth century illustrated ‘Treatise on the Art of Riding and using the Instruments of War’ end up in the British Library’s Arabic manuscript collection? A ‘Nincumpoop’ of the Napoleonic era, who moonlighted as an antiquarian, holds the answer.
Sir Thomas Reade: The ‘Nincumpoop’ Collector of Arabic Manuscripts
Sharjah 1940, and Nazi radio broadcasts in Arabic filled the air, stirring pro-German sentiment amongst the town’s inhabitants – and provoking consternation amongst British officials.
Nazi Propaganda in Sharjah during World War II
In a pre-internet age of slow-travelling news, just how could a message be sent from London to Basra in 22 days?
London to Basra in Twenty-Two Days
Qatar’s exploratory wells were drilled relatively late, although Major Frank Holmes sought an exploratory lease in 1922.
The Qatar Oil Concession Ushers in a New Era for British Relations with Doha
Ḥunayn Ibn Isḥāq: a Medieval Arab scholar who transformed his understanding of ancient Greek medical texts into manuals for the benefit of many successive generations of students.
The Making of Medical Manuals: The 'Questions and Answers' Format in Ḥunayn Ibn Isḥāq’s Medical Manuals
The interception by an East India Company vessel in June 1853, of a Bahrain trading vessel carrying slaves in the Gulf, reveals a story of politics and diplomacy, disease and death.
Diplomacy, Disease and Death: A Story of Georgian Slaves in the Gulf
George Barnes Brucks was the first Englishman to survey the Gulf’s coasts in the 1820s. But while Brucks’s charts were quickly replaced by more accurate maps, his writings offer fascinating historic insight into the region.
George Barnes Brucks and the First English Survey of the Gulf
Common household practices such as consuming hot soups and drinks when one has caught a cold are rooted in humoral medicine, which was the dominant medical paradigm from the time of Galen to the nineteenth century (and beyond) across much of the world.
Galenic Humoral Pathology
With pearling in decline and oil exploitation on hold, what drove Bahrain’s economy between the World Wars?
Bahrain’s Economy: Buffeted between Pearls and Oil
Murder, suicide, communal riots, racial snobbery and a colourful, much-maligned British Agent caught up in the midst of it all: a record of life in Gwadar 1928–32.
M. Waris Ali’s ‘Absurd’ Account: A Native Agent and the Riots at Gwadar
An overview of the records created by Britain’s Political Residency at Bushire between 1763 and 1948, including a description of the records and the subjects they cover.
Finding Aid: Political Residency, Bushire IOR/R/15/1: 1763-1948
A document written in the mid-1940s sheds light on how the Bushire Political Residency files came to be so well organised.
‘The life stream of an office’: Instructions for dealing with correspondence at the British Residency in Bushire
A number of key moments in the life of Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa are recorded in the India Office Records.
Episodes from the Life of Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa
There are numerous records relating to high-level British officials in the Gulf, but the letters in the India Office Establishment Files also reveal the working conditions of the lower-paid ranks of Agency staff.
The Menial Establishment in Britain’s Political Agency, Bahrain
An overview of Bahrain Political Agency files dealing with the impact of the Second World War on the Gulf region.
The British Empire in the Gulf during the Second World War
With the oil industry booming in Bahrain in the early 1930s, BAPCO oil workers, amongst others, lobbied for the first cinemas to be established.
Priority Air Freight to Serve Bahrain’s First Cinemas
By charting waters within and creating accurate maps of their spheres of influence the East India company, and later India Office, ensured that they had an advantage over competing powers.
India Office Records Map Collection: A Vast and Powerful Resource
An overview of the key moments from the history of interaction between the British and Kuwait, as illustrated through the India Office Records.
Country Profile: Kuwait
What is a kharita, what are its main components, and how was it dispatched?
Kharita: royal letter dispatching in nineteenth-century Afghanistan
The 1930s was the decade that transformed the Gulf from its role as conduit between Britain and her empire to a strategic locus in the run-up to the war and a ‘highway between east and west’.
The 1930s: the Gulf as ‘Highway between East and West’
An overview of the key moments from the history of interaction between the British and Saudi Arabia, as illustrated through the India Office Records.
Country Profile: Saudi Arabia
J. G. Lorimer’s Gazetteer of the Persian Gulf, Oman and Central Arabia has long been used as a central source for the study of the region. Yet, it is essential to understand the contexts of its production in order to fully appreciate its content.
Colonial Knowledge: Lorimer’s Gazetteer of the Persian Gulf, Oman and Central Arabia
An overview of the key moments from the history of interaction between the British and Qatar, as illustrated through the India Office Records.
Country Profile: Qatar
How geophysicists working in the Gulf were able to contribute in the 1930s to the scientific community’s understanding of the earth’s magnetic field.
Kuwait, Carnegie, and Terrestrial Magnetic Observations
Britain and its Allies maintained supremacy over the Gulf’s airspace during the Second World War, but mechanical failure could quickly turn the tables, making crewmen dependent on the region’s local population for their survival.
Air Crashes in the Gulf during the Second World War
A colonial officer named Hickinbotham illustrates the everyday boredom of administrating the Empire with his practical jokes and escapist reading list.
‘Imperial Boredom’ and Imperial Reading
The arrest of a British Subject on spurious charges makes plain Britain’s dominant position in Kuwait in the late 1930s.
The Kuwait Cat’s Meat Crisis
An enormous effort was made to translate almost all known Greek literature into Arabic during the 8th to 10th centuries, and Baghdad was at the centre of this work. Why was it that so many of the translators were Christians?
Why Were So Many of the Greek-Arabic Translators Christians?
Gwadar was an enclave of the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman for nearly 200 years, but records show that while the Sultans were reluctant to lose sovereignty over the territory, they were nevertheless open to negotiations with the British.
Gwadar: the Sultan’s Possession
A candid exchange between British officials in the 1920s reveals the extent to which Britain had intervened in Bahrain in its own interest.
Britain’s ‘interest’ in Bahrain
The removal of original backgrounds and inscriptions reveals a tension between the photographers ‘Abd al-Ghaffār and Snouck Hurgronje in terms of their process, approach to and outlook on photography.
From the Individual to the Archetypal: ‘Abd al-Ghaffār’s Edited Photographic Portraits
Appearing in files from Bahrain in the 1930s, the terms ‘Holi’ (singular) and ‘Hawala’ (plural) are not immediately recognisable to most readers. Gulf History cataloguers take a closer look at the terms to decipher their meanings.
Home and Away: The Itinerant History of the Hawala Arabs
The life and times of Shaikh Khaz’al bin Jābir bin Mirdāw al-Ka‘bī (1861-1936), the Emir of Mohammerah and chief of the Banu Ka’b tribe.
The Shaikh who lost his Shaikhdom, Khaz’al al-Ka‘bī of Mohammerah
The Death of Karim Khan Zand, ruler of Persia, in 1779 marked the beginning of a bloody period lasting 15 years and culminating in the rise to power of the Qajar dynasty.
The Brutal End of Persia’s Zand Dynasty
How did an illustrated Arabic manuscript on the Art of War come into the possession of an illegitimate son of a King; his extraordinary and ultimately tragic life leading to its acquisition by the British Library?
An Earl, a Collection and a Gun: the Curious Provenance of a British Library Manuscript
By offering military protection to Qatar, the British tried to ensure access to Qatari oil in the run-up to the Second World War. But why did Qatar need weapons and armoured cars in 1935?
Oil for Military Protection between the Wars: Qatar’s Request for Weapons and the British Response
The remarkable travel journals of an Indian civil servant, who was an eyewitness to the military action at Ra’s al-Khaymah in 1819.
The Manuscript Journals of John Bax
How do you reduce communication times between the Gulf and India, from months, to a matter of weeks?
Telegraphy: The Gulf’s Most Admired Means of Communication in the 1860s
It was an event that provoked anxiety among Persians and foreign traders alike and was to trigger a period of profound instability in Iran: the death, in 1779, of the ruler of Persia, Karim Khan Zand.
The ‘Dreaded’ Death of Karim Khan Zand, Ruler of Persia
The environment has greatly influenced life in the Gulf and Indian Ocean over the centuries. Before the era of steamships, a hugely significant factor affecting life and trade in this region were the winds of the Indian Ocean monsoon.
Muscat and the Monsoon
Who were the founders of traditional ṣawt music and why did their musical journey start in Kuwait?
The Cradle of Arabic Sawt Music: The Early Musician Generations in Kuwait
Thanks to the recording sessions at the first Arabic Music Congress in 1932 in Cairo, we can still listen to a selection of early Arabic music recordings. Additionally, several documents and reports are available, allowing us to learn about the formation of ‘Arabic music’ and musicological discussions in the first part of the twentieth century.
Microtones: The Piano and Muhammad Al-Qubanshi – The First Congress of Arabic Music and Early Recordings from Iraq
Captain Owen’s plan to take over the portal town of Mombasa on the Indian Ocean put British officials in a contentious situation with the Sultan of Muscat and Zanzibar.
Mombasa: Britain’s Shortest-Lived Protectorate?
An overview of the key moments from the history of interaction between the British and United Arab Emirates, as illustrated through the India Office Records.
Country Profile: United Arab Emirates
Sir Lewis Pelly is a key figure in the history of the Gulf who, in his role as Political Resident, was Britain’s senior official in the region from 1862 to 1873. He holds particular importance for Qatar due to his recognition of its independent sovereignty in 1868.
The Emergence of Qatar: Pelly’s Role in Britain’s 1868 Recognition of the State
The vast trove of material held at the British Library that pertains to Britain’s Colonial exploits owe their present organisation in part to the early acknowledgement by officials in the EIC and India Office of the importance of record-keeping.
History of the India Office Records and Private Papers
How and why did the British Library come to hold 14,000 Arabic manuscripts within its collections?
The Arabic Manuscripts Collection in the British Library
Though nowadays Qatar is well-known for its immense natural oil and gas reserves and the rapid modernisation of society, it has a rich heritage of music and dance intimately related to pearl-diving, sea trade and Bedouin traditions.
Modernity meets Tradition: Reflections on Traditional Music in Qatar
From East India Company intelligence to news of the discovery of oil, the India Office Records demonstrate the exchanges that took place between Britain and Qatar over the last three centuries.
Qatari History: Pivotal Moments Revealed in India Office Records
The establishment of the Bahrain Agency in 1900 cemented previous British interest in the Persian Gulf and set the tone for increased economic and political involvement in the 20th century.
The Political Agency, Bahrain: Inside the Organisation that Ran Britain's Interests in Bahrain
Despite inauspicious beginnings, Shaikh Aḥmad al-Jābir Āl Ṣabāḥ’s official visit to England in 1919 proved a success.
Shaikh Ahmad goes to England: The Politics of Official State Visits
In the early 20th century, British Officials responsible for the administration of justice in cases concerning British subjects and foreigners in the Gulf had to maintain a delicate balance, so as not to stoke bad relations between neighbouring states.
Legal Business: The Judicial Aspects of British Rule in the Gulf
The 1948 visit of Shaikh Khalīfa bin Mohammed Āl Khalīfa to Britain on a training trip arranged by the British Council provides an early example of cooperation between Britain and Bahrain in matters related to policing and security.
Bahrain’s Chief of Police Visits the UK, 1948
Kept alive until today by a very small number of chalgi Baghdad ensembles and through remaining shellac recordings, Iraqi maqam is a sophisticated musical genre from urban Iraq that developed in the 1920s‒1940s.
Dusty Streets and Hot Music in Baghdad: Iraqi Maqam Music and Chalgi Ensembles
Keen to maintain peace and wary of inflaming relations with the Trucial Shaikhs, in 1910 the Government of India censured those responsible for a bloody bombardment of Dubai and its aftermath.
The Response of the Government of India to ‘The Dubai Incident’
‘What can I buy from the current post holder?’ was the first consideration of a newly appointed British Agent in the Empire. Frequent moves meant that provisions, furniture and necessities for entertaining were bought and sold rather than transported with Agents from post to post.
Creature Comforts, Wine and Spirits: Inside the Home of a Peripatetic British Agent
How the anti-British sentiments of a British adviser assisted the foundation of Saudi Arabia.
‘Calls himself an Englishman’: The shifting loyalties of Harry Philby
Ṣawt, the urban music of the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf, has evolved from diverse musical traditions, including sea music, and was profoundly influenced by Indian, African and classical Arabic music.
Sing, Play and Be Merry: The Unique Ṣawt Music of the Arabian Peninsula
In recognising the importance of the trade, British colonial records cast light on the state of the ancient trade in Frankincense in the Dhofar region at the end of the 19th century, as well as some conflicts that emerged as a result.
Frankincense in Dhofar: An Ancient Trade at the Centre of 19th Century Tensions
The people of the upper Gulf coast have created a rich and multifaceted musical culture. Unfortunately, these musical genres are hardly known outside this region and there is a risk that some of this heritage will be lost forever.
Interlocking Patterns Meet Arabic Poetry: Musical Genres in the Upper Gulf Region
Before oil, the inhabitants of the Gulf’s Arab coast depended on diving for natural pearls for their economic livelihoods. And, like oil, it was chiefly European and North American demand that dictated the success or failure of each pearling season.
Divers are a Pearl’s Best Friend: Pearl Diving in the Gulf 1840s–1930s
An overview of the key moments from the history of interaction between the British and Iraq, as illustrated through the India Office Records.
Country Profile: Iraq
In the 1860s, speculation on Indian cotton, followed by failed harvests left Bombay’s banks in crisis and customers struggling to access funds. Lewis Pelly was one such customer.
The Bombay Banking Crisis
How did an Agent of the East India Company use his position to collect the manuscripts that went to form the basis of the British Library’s Arabic-language collection?
The Taylor Collection
In the immediate post-WWII period, despite British opposition, the U.S. sought to increase its influence in the Gulf by distributing propagandistic material in Arabic.
U.S. Propaganda in Post-WWII Bahrain
For a period of over 150 years, from 1820 until its withdrawal in 1971, Britain was dominant in the Gulf, but the nature of British domination evolved from economic influence to political control, particularly of the Arabian side of the Gulf.
The British in the Gulf: an Overview
The extremely difficult and elaborate work of sailing ships and boats for pearl-diving and fishing in the Gulf region was essential in giving birth to a group of the most exciting music genres in the Arab world. Today, we wonder how this happened and how these genres could survive.
Fann Al-Baḥri – The Great Art of the Sea
What do the records created by the British Political Agency at Muscat have to offer us?
Finding Aid: Muscat Political Agency Records
The music of the upper Gulf region is well known for its intricate rhythms, hand-clapping and sung poetry. In addition to this, its musical instruments have evolved or been incorporated into various genres.
A Rich Culture Expressed in Music - Musical Instruments in The Upper Gulf Region
The untimely death of John Gordon Lorimer, acting Resident in the Persian Gulf 1913–14, was seen as a tragedy. Yet, his legacy – in the form of his Gazetteer of the Persian Gulf, Oman and Central Arabia – emerged forty years later and has remained central to the study of the Gulf ever since.
‘Persian Gulf Tragedy’: the Death and Legacy of John Gordon Lorimer
When Pelly undertook making a trip to Riyadh in 1864–65, he wished to gain intelligence on the Nejd, but also to prove that an Englishman could travel through the territory unmolested.
Pelly’s Unprecedented Trip to Riyadh
The India Office Private Papers offer a personal perspective on military, political, social and economic history over the period 1750–1947; in their private correspondence and diaries, people could write in different, often more open, ways.
The India Office Private Papers
During WWII food shortages in the Middle East caused by locust swarms were tackled by a largely forgotten, but ultimately successful war supported by British administrators in the Gulf.
The Forgotten War against Locusts that Helped Win the War
In 1920, a gift from Ibn Saud in the form of a female oryx was the first ever to have survived the difficult journey from Arabia to London.
The King’s Oryx: Ibn Saud’s Diplomatic Gift to George V
While much of the world was experiencing the effects of global war in the first half of the 1940s, the Gulf by contrast was an oasis of calm.
The 1940s: Perfect Peace in the Midst of War
Sir Lewis Pelly was a key figure in the history of the Gulf owing to his role, as British Political Resident, in enforcing the region’s maritime peace treaties from 1862 to 1873.
A Portrait of Sir Lewis Pelly
The name Mīr Muhannā is much celebrated in Iran today because he stood up to imperialism and won.
A Thorn in England’s Side: The Piracy of Mīr Muhannā
While much remains unknown about the life of the first Meccan photographer, al-Sayyid ‘Abd al-Ghaffār, his 1880s photographs shed light on life in the holy city.
‘Abd al-Ghaffār: The First Meccan Photographer
The first crossing of the Arabian Peninsula by a European, revealed in glimpses by the early correspondence of the Bushire Residency, was indicative of the East India Company beginning to look beyond the Gulf littoral and into Central Arabia.
The Accidental Explorer: George Sadleir and Britain’s Entry into Central Arabia
What was the life of a diver like and how did the trade function? Papers in the India Office Records provide some fascinating clues.
Pearl Diving: Inside the Trade That Shaped the Gulf
Germany’s desire for ‘a place in the sun’ saw her challenge Britain’s commercial dominance in the Gulf in the early years of the twentieth century.
German Interests in the Gulf’s Pearling Industry
Britain’s decision to prohibit the use of modern diving suits and cultured pearls on the Gulf’s pearl banks was intended to preserve the region’s pearling industry, yet ultimately contributed to its slow collapse throughout the 1930s.
British Government Resist Modernisation of the Pearling Industry
Over 800 manumission statements, collected by numerous British administrators in the Gulf over the course of three decades, offer invaluable insights into the lives and labours of the enslaved peoples of the Gulf region.
Manumission Statements: Insights into the Lives of the Gulf’s enslaved Population
Mathematicians in medieval Islamic societies were the first to grasp the real significance of Menelaus’ Spherics. They followed Menelaus’ approach to spherical geometry and went on to develop spherical trigonometry as an independent branch of mathematics.
In the wake of Indian independence and the United States’ increasing presence, British administrators sought to remind the Gulf’s inhabitants of who remained nominally in control of the region.
A Demonstration of British Firepower on the Trucial Coast, 1949
The shipwreck in 1852 of a merchant vessel off the Oman coast, led to the plunder and loss of enough indigo to supply the entire Gulf region for a year.
The Indigo Trade in the Gulf in the Nineteenth Century
Six videos demonstrating the replication of a specific eighteenth-century manuscript's binding by the British Library's conservator, Flavio Marzo.
Replication of an Eighteenth Century Manuscript Binding
Although British power in the Gulf was founded on maritime truces with local rulers, in the early 20th century land-based attacks increased, creating the need for new agreements.
When Maritime Protection Is Not Enough: Britain’s Agreement to Protect Qatar’s Borders at Sea and on Land
In AD 137, Ptolemy compiled a catalogue of forty-eight constellations containing 1022 stars. ʽAbd al-Raḥmān al-Ṣūfī revised critically Ptolemy’s catalogue, added new stars and identified those appearing in the Arabic folk tradition.
ʽAbd al-Raḥmān al-Ṣūfī and the Revision of Ptolemy’s Star Catalogue
For over thirty years, Charles Belgrave was an immensely powerful figure in Bahrain who played an instrumental role in its development but by 1957 he had become so unpopular he was forced to leave and never set foot in the country again.
Charles Belgrave – The Adviser
In the medieval and early modern periods, the same group of individuals who developed new mathematical methods and theories were often directly involved in the historical, philological preservation of ancient texts.
Competing Theories of Spherical Trigonometry
Due to increased tensions between the British and French, in the 1780s, the Gulf was drawn into a global battle for supremacy. Spying was a significant aspect of the struggle to control strategic shipping routes.
Spies, Ships and Strategic Communication: Anglo-French Competition in the Gulf
What was the purpose of Sir Lewis Pelly’s trip through Afghanistan in 1860?
Journey through Afghanistan, 1860
‘Islamic’ and ‘Western’ are terms used to describe different styles of binding but experts agree that much further research is required to create more meaningful categories.
‘Islamic Style’ Binding: A Misleading Term Ripe for Further Research
Bertram Thomas completed his historic crossing of the Empty Quarter in 1931, then the largest territory in the world outside Antarctica still unexplored by Europeans. But why is he still a minor figure in the history of exploration and Empire?
Skull Measuring, Oil Seepages and Desert Crossings: Bertram Thomas and the Exploration of the Arabian Peninsula
Ibn Saud’s quest for recognition of his Arabian Kingdom, and how British Government officials turned their backs on the largest reserves of crude oil in the world.
Emir Faisal’s Diplomatic Mission and Britain’s Reluctance to Invest in Saudi Oil in 1932
The reign of Said bin Taimur was marked by financial troubles from the outset, but despite his more active role in the 1930s, a rebellion in the province of Dhofar ultimately cost him the Sultanate.
The Financial Troubles of Said bin Taimur
An unassuming financial file that forms part of the India Office Records contains an unexpected example of British, Arabic-language propaganda.
‘For the Sake of Freedom’: British World War II Propaganda Posters in Arabic
Played out against Oman’s imposing geographical position, the British relationship with Oman has changed from that of allies against common foe, through informal British imperial influence to an important trading and strategic partner today.
A Close Relationship: Britain and Oman since 1750
Negotiation and improvisation formed the basis of the Gulf’s early aviation industry.
Negotiating the Origins of the Gulf’s Aviation Industry
A vast array of cartographic material has been hidden amongst the India Office Records’ administrative files; this material provides a fascinating insight into the workings of British imperial knowledge gathering in the Gulf and beyond.
Cartographic Material in India Office Reports
The dramatic decline of the Gulf’s pearling industry during the 1920s and 1930s, saw increasing numbers of pearl divers seek their freedom.
Twilight of Pearl Trade Sees ‘Slave’ Divers Seek Freedoms
The death of an African sailor who had been severely flogged for attempted desertion, exposes the brutal nature of early nineteenth-century maritime life, in which justice could be as capricious as a strong tailwind.
Crime or Punishment? The Cruel Death of a Sailor at Bushire in 1820