Centuries-old maps, illustrations and photographs before the establishment of the UAE highlighting the Portuguese forts in the 17th century, detailed watercolours of the British attack on this region in 1819 and many precious personal collections of the Ruler of Sharjah make the Dr Sultan Al Qasimi Centre of Gulf Studies unique.
Set up in April 2007, the centre has six sections: the Hall of the Personal Collection of His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah; the Hall of His Personal Photographs; Library; History of the Gulf through Maps; Historical Films Hall; and the Life in the Gulf Hall.
Behind this centre is the fulfilment of the dream of the Sharjah Ruler to provide a place where researchers in this region do not have to travel thousands of miles to other countries for information about the history and lifestyle of the Gulf countries.
In the Map section, more than a hundred maps are on display, many dating back to the 17th and 18th century. Among them are the late Roman road map of the 4th century that survived in the German monastery, the map of French scholar Pascal Gosselin who published in 1808 the juxtaposition of Ptolemy map with Neibuhr map identifying Bani Yas with Asaboi people mentioned by Ptolemy, the great Egyptian astronomer, mathematician and geographer of Greek descent during the 2nd century AD.
The French version of Niebuhr’s “Beschreibung von Arabien” published in 1772 specifies the Qasimi Shaikh of Sharjah called “Rashid bin Maton”. Arabs called his territory “Ser” after the place of residence of the Shaikh and its good harbour.
In this hall is also displayed the reconstructed world map by Konrad Miller in 1927 from the map made by Idrisi for King Roger of Sicily in 1154. Known as the Peutinger map, the medieval copy of an ancient Roman map, the reconstructed world map shows clearly the Arabian Peninsula, the first edition of which was printed in 1887.
Going into the Hall of the Ruler’s personal collection, 16 of his published books are showcased together with the many medals, gifts from other rulers, kings, heads of states the world over, certificates awarded to him for his various academic achievements, services and contributions to upgrade the standards of education and support to scientific and academic development.
The Sharjah Ruler’s personal photo collections have caught those rare important moments when he received his bachelor degree in agricultural engineering from Cairo University in Egypt, Doctor of Philosophy in Political Geography from Durham University, the UK, and Doctor of Philosophy in History with Distinction from Exeter University, the UK. Other images on display show him receiving 16 honorary doctorate degrees in various fields from 16 universities in the world, including Hanyang University of Seoul in Korea, Kanazawa University of Japan, University of Sheffield in the UK, McMaster University in Canada and University of Tubingen in Germany.
In the Historical Films Hall, displays of a collection of documentary films about the Gulf Region in various multimedia formats are seen. The films cover historical, cultural and social aspects of the communities of the region. The library of the centre boasts of 2,300 collections of historical works which relate in great detail to the Arab Gulf, in both Arabic and European languages, and reference books in history and geography for all Gulf countries, including the collection of Portuguese books, “which are a vital tool for any research worker wishing to understand the history of the Gulf from the beginning of the 16th century”.
Hind Al Kilbi, Library Supervisor, says the books and other reference materials in the library represent the collections of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah for 25 long years. “The most unique references in this library are the British books about the Gulf, which talk about the region before the birth of the UAE and the people’s lifestyle,” she said.
The library’s Archive System will give the researcher instant access to about one-and-a-half million pages of primary source material from European origins from a computer terminal. “All of the material is indexed, and searchable, and pages of interest can be selected for printing.”
Just around the library, visitors can see for themselves fine models of local dhows and ships — the Al Baghla and Al Boom which dominate the history of European trading and political intervention in the Gulf.
In the hall featuring the Life in the Gulf, the geographical sequences begin with the Gulf of Oman and early illustrations, photographic images and handwritten materials and engravings on wood and copper. These records came from Europe, particularly from political representatives, travellers and professional photographers, who captured the rare moments in their lenses.