What is the relationship between growing cultural confidence in the Arabian Peninsula and the centring of local narratives about Arabian history in museums?
Recent years mark a turning point in how the history of the Arabian Peninsula is approached in museum settings in the region. The rich and vibrant stories and histories of Central Arabia and the Gulf coast are being highlighted, using oral histories, poetry and intangible traditions alongside archaeological and written evidence. This is a departure from previous approaches whereby museums centred the accounts of foreign visitors to the region and sometimes lost interest in the Peninsula altogether after the Prophetic era (apart from Makkah and Madinah), focusing instead on the worldwide spread of Islam and objects brought to the Arabian Peninsula by pilgrims and traders.
Middle East studies and museum studies have highlighted the importance of growing national cultural confidence and respect for local and national heritage and history across Arabia, but are yet to consider the role of centring Arabian narratives in museums in empowering people to feel pride in their own heritage and history, often rewriting the narratives received in education. This paper draws on recent and ongoing narrative development for museums in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Oman to explore how this change is happening and who is driving it. It offers an important contribution for conceptions of local and national history and identity in the Arabian Peninsula.