Wednesday, January 04, 2006

In the archives

I spent the day at one of Kuwait's hidden gems: the library at the Centre for Research and Studies on Kuwait in Mansouriya. I first found out about the library four years ago through a friend who was publishing a great book on Kuwaiti history that I provided old photographs for and was asked to read the manuscript of before going into publication. The library is a great place - small, but very impressively stocked as far as Gulf history is concerned. They have an entire wall of all the bound British Foreign Office records of all the Gulf countries since the protectorate era, as well as of some other Arab countries. They also have a huge (pretty much complete) collection of all the British travel writing on the Gulf, plus tons of biographies, etc. I have been using the library with special permission as a researcher since I first found it four years ago. It's one of those places that just makes me happy. I went there this morning to do some research and got lost in my reading and before I knew it two hours had passed and they were closing. I'm going back again tomorrow (you can't remove books from the library since most of them are rare and out-of-print).

Today I was reading (or rather re-reading) "The Letters of Gertrude Bell: Vol. II". Her letters are a fantastic read, and I would recommend reading the published volumes to anyone who can get their hands on them. Bell held a high position in the British Imperial Government in Iraq, and she spent a good portion of her life in Baghdad (she died there in 1926). She was one of the few women of the time to serve the Empire in such a significant capacity, especially in the Middle East, and that unique experience (my personal opinions of her aside) makes for a quite fascinating, often frustrating (because you get a good behind-the-scenes look at a day in the life of Empire), and unmistakeably entertaining read.

Here is a taste. This is an excerpt from a letter she wrote to her mother on 14 March 1920. She is referring to some extremist religious leaders whom she had difficulty coming into contact with:

“Until quite recently I’ve been wholly cut off from them because their tenets forbid them to look upon an unveiled woman and my tenets don’t permit me to veil – I think I’m right there, for it would be a tacit admission of inferiority which would put our intercourse from the first out of focus. Nor is it any good trying to make friends through the women – if the women were allowed to see me they would veil before me as if I were a man. So you see I appear to be too female for one sex and too male for the other.” p. 484

I love this stuff.


  • I've never been to a library here. Didn't think they existed :P

    I'm gonna Amazon Gertrude Bell and see if they have published copies of her letters.

    By Blogger Tooomz, at 1/04/2006 4:21 pm  

  • About five years ago I was doing research for my undergraduate honors thesis and while in Kuwait on vacation I decided to go do some digging at the National Library in Mubarakiya. There were only like two employees in the entire library (one being the guard), and you should have seen their faces when I walked in and said I was there to do research. They had no idea how to handle me! Just wait till I get back here with my PhD in hand... ;)

    By Blogger Kleio, at 1/05/2006 4:32 am  

  • Sounds like an interesting place to check out. Is it open to the public?

    By Blogger Jazz Central, at 1/05/2006 11:31 am  

  • It's not really open to the public if you don't actually have a purpose, but I can hook you up. ;)

    By Blogger Kleio, at 1/07/2006 12:57 am  

  • Yay!

    By Blogger Jazz Central, at 1/07/2006 8:41 am  

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