SCOTLAND recently celebrated its part in the UK-Qatar Year of Culture with a concert that featured Qatari music performed in Scotland for the first time.
The celebration sought to bring greater awareness of the Gulf’s contribution to society in the UK, and to Scotland.
The British Library is leading the academic and educational impact of this cultural exchange. At the heart of this process is technology, and specifically digitisation. The British Library-Qatar Foundation partnership will digitise half a million pages of archive material pertaining to the Gulf, creating an online educational resource.
There is Scottish influence in those archives, too: from archaeologists undertaking land surveys for Persian telegraph lines in 1860s to the work of the founder of the British India Steam Navigation Company, many Scots played a role in the Gulf during that great period of change.
Some of the material being made available – monuments of learning produced in the great medieval centres of the Middle East – reveal the extraordinary diversity and intellectual richness of centuries-old dialogue between East and West in science, philosophy, religion and the arts. As higher education institutions in Scotland and around the world increasingly pursue internationalisation, the emerging presence online of such material will outline astonishing possibilities for new collaborations and partnerships.
National institutions – including in Scotland – can now work together across geographical boundaries with increasing ease. The British Library has fantastic links with several Scottish institutions, many of which have well-established reputations in Arabic and Middle Eastern studies. So the arrival of the UK-Qatar Year of Culture has real relevance here, as does the British Library-Qatar Foundation Partnership.
The question for us is how to ensure that new resources cascade into teaching and research communities around the globe effectively. The question for Scotland is how to grasp these new opportunities. As global education becomes more fluid, and increasingly international, so knowledge partnerships can underpin its long-term success. • Oliver Urquhart-Irvine is head of the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership