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Thursday 17 November ,2022

The National Library and Archives Organizes an International Oral History Conference

Under the theme of Their memory Our history, and with the aim of documenting and sustaining identity and heritage elements
The National Library and Archives Organizes an International Oral History Conference
The National Library and Archives organized the UAE International Oral History Conference under the theme of Their Memory Our History: Oral History Documenting and Sustaining Elements of Identity and Heritage. Participants in the conference included specialists, experts, researchers, those with distinguished experiences in oral history and senior local narrators whose memories enriched the third volume of Their Memory is Our History, which was launched at the conference.
The National Library and Archives attaches great importance to oral history, as it is essential to take advantage of narrators who witnessed the events before and after the union to document history, since eyewitnesses are more credible and reliable than earwitnesses.
His Excellency Abdullah Majed Al Ali, Director General of the National Library and Archives, inaugurated the conference with a speech in which he welcomed the narrators, participants, and guests of the conference. He stressed the importance of this conference because it shed light on the significance of oral history as a reasonable and effective tool of recording and preserving memory and bygone events.
Oral history constitutes an important source in the history of nations and peoples. Those who witnessed the historical events can give true account of them since they are imprinted in their memories.
His Excellency said that as soon as the National Library and Archives opened the way for senior citizens to document their memories in its records, they realized with their sense of patriotism that this is a national duty. Thus, they welcomed the NLA’s teams of experts and specialists who reached out to them across the UAE.
He pointed out that Article (4) of Federal Law No. 7 of 2008 has entrusted the National Library and Archives with the task of collecting, documenting, and preserving oral history material and making it available in the relevant scientific manner.
The Director General of the National Library and Archives expressed his happiness with the NLA’s achievements, as it compiled more than 900 interviews providing content for its publications which enrich the Arab library.
Dr. Aisha Belkhair, Research Advisor and Head of the Oral History Team at the National Library and Archives delivered a speech in the UAE International Oral History conference. She stressed the importance of the oral narrative which serves as a bridge between the past and the present through which our grandparents and parents’ traditions and values are passed down to the younger generations. It also acquaints researchers with the past to enrich historical research and enhance the harmony between civilizations and cultures.   This contributes to the sustainability of heritage and motivates generations encouraging them to preserve the "treasures of the Emirates" and its living memory.
She praised the efforts of the conference guests, including narrators, participants, experts and researchers. She also applauded the efforts of the oral history team at the National Library and Archives, and the support they receive from its senior management.
Participants and guests of the conference witnessed the launch of the third volume of Their Memory, Our History, published by the National Library and Archives, in the presence of many narrators involved in its topics.
The conference witnessed positive interaction between the audience and the speakers: Mr. Mohammed Saif Al-Nayeli Al Shamsi, Mr.  Siddiq Al Khaja, and Mr. Mohammed bin Salem bin Kabinah Al Rashedi. They spoke about the importance of preserving heritage the need to sustain it for successive generations, and the role of the UAE community in spreading tolerance and peace.
In the first session of the conference, moderated by Dr. Aisha Belkhair and entitled Oral History and the Future Memory, Dr. Mohamed Hassan Abdel Hafez, Assistant Professor of Folk Literature at the Higher Institute of Folk Arts, spoke about the importance of oral history in preserving identity. He also praised what the National Library and Archives offers within the framework of the oral history project in which the United Arab Emirates is interested with a focus on folklore and heritage, which the world did not incorporate in the priorities of the oral history.
Then, Mr. Jumaa Bin Thalith Al-Humairi, Director of Heritage Projects at the Emirates Diving Association, spoke about his experience in collecting oral history. He pointed out that the researcher in the field of oral history must have the ability to interact with the elderly narrators and the skill to steer the conversation to obtain the sought-after information and memories. He touched on some amusing incidents which he experienced while conducting field interviews and documented in his books.
Prof. Saleh Al-Dossi Al-Zahrani, Graduate Studies Professor at the Department of the Education Principles and Management of the University of Jeddah, discussed data collection tools at the end of the first session.  In his research paper, he shed light on new software that can be used in preserving oral history and the importance of dealing with oral history as a science to which scientific research methods are applied. He gave a detailed practical explanation of the development of scientific research methodologies in this field.
The second session, moderated by Ms. Maitha Al Zaabi, Head of Oral History and Genealogical Studies Section at the National Library and Archives, is entitled Oral History between Field Work and Academic Product. Dr.Saleh Mohamed Allahebi, Assistant Professor at Sharjah university, began the session presenting his research paper which gave the definition of oral history preserved in the hearts and memories requiring experienced researchers to write it down. He also identified the principles that set its acceptable framework. Dr. Allahebi emphasized the importance of the narrator’s words expressions and articulation, and the researcher’s skill in posing questions, pointing out  that the four elements  of the oral history interview:  Researcher, narrator, questions, and recording tool.
Then Dr. Timothy Power, Archaeologist at the UAE University, talked about the impact of oral history on the development of Al Jazeera Al Hamra in Ras Al Khaimah. He shed light on the importance of the interviews conducted with some of its inhabitants as they provided documented information about the island in various fields.
 Finally, Ms. Suha Shaaban, independent researcher, spoke about her rich experience involving the compilation of the Aleppo Encyclopedia. She pointed out that the encyclopedia team comprised thousands of people who provided vast information prompted by their keenness to preserve the heritage of their homeland. This enriched the Aleppo Encyclopedia with popular proverbs, historical pictures, customs and traditions, arts and various memories that are preserved in Aleppo memory. The encyclopedia also introduced the distinguished personalities of the ancient city of Aleppo.
The conference recommended that concerned institutions need to conduct surveys in the areas where there is a need to collect oral history, and to circulate their results to universities and research centers to be a field of work for researchers.  Other recommendations included a stress on the importance of training a group of academic and field researchers on the best and latest methods of oral history recording to unify the frameworks of interviews and collection processes, and to create databases of the surveyed areas and interviewed people to save efforts in field work.
 The recommendations underlined the importance of supporting projects of independent researchers by government  agencies, the cooperation between agencies and individuals in the interest of oral history, the importance of creating a supervisory body in the field of oral history, which includes all the emirates. They also suggested signing agreements with  bodies abroad to benefit from their experiences in documenting oral history, and linking academic curricula to it to benefit from its topics.
The recommendations also pointed to the need to appoint a committee inclusive of all the concerned emirates. They also called for preserving and documenting heritage, and counting social media in the sources of collecting intangible heritage as an easy and fast way to reach a large audience, as well as regulating this tool or source, in order to revive and sustain heritage.  
The conference concluded by honoring all participants.