Visiting the archive

As an Archivist it is always a perk of the job to share our collections with a new audience. GCSE student Cate Horrell came on a tour as part of a placement and was kind enough to write us a short blog below about her impressions on visiting an archive for the first time.

While visiting the University of Exeter for work experience, I was lucky enough to be taken around the special collections archive. I’d never been to an archive before and I wasn’t even sure exactly what it would be like.

My first impression was that it was like the huge, historic libraries you see in films. I was shown around the archive, and I found the strong rooms particularly interesting. They hold some of the oldest and most valuable items; my favourites were an old atlas of England and Wales created by Christopher Saxton, and a first edition of Dracula. The books range from the beautiful, old style that have been bound in vellum to more modern books that look more like the typical ones we would read today.

The archive has a huge range of items, and I really enjoyed seeing some different examples of the kinds of things it stores. I also saw an old sketch book which had drawings of Devon in it, alongside an old theatre set plan and a case of glass photographic negatives.

I really enjoyed looking around the special collections archive and seeing some rarities. It was a new experience for me and I’m very grateful for the opportunity.

Saxton Atlas and first edition of Dracula

 

Cataloguing the Common Ground archive: ‘England in Particular’ and ‘Producing the Goods’

Two months have passed since my last blog post and I’m pleased to report that since then two more sections of the Common Ground archive have been catalogued. Following on from cataloguing the sections of the archive relating to the projects Second Nature, Holding Your Ground and Parish Maps, the next section I was keen to tackle concerned the England in Particular project. There were several reasons for this decision: 1) this section of the archive is very large (therefore best not left to the end!), 2) it is relatively well organised (music to an archivist’s ears!), and 3) it has great research potential (so the sooner it is catalogued, the sooner it can be used!).

The England in Particular project grew out of Common Ground’s Campaign for Local Distinctiveness. ‘Local distinctiveness’ was a concept coined and developed by Common Ground from as early as 1985, and it was used by the charity to explore ‘the relationship between people and everyday places, and the bonds between nature, identity and place’ (S. Clifford and A. King, Local Distinctiveness: Place, Particularity and Identity (1993), p. 7). The aim of the England in Particular project was to create an encyclopedia of local distinctiveness and vernacular culture in England that would demonstrate the ‘extraordinary richness of our everyday surroundings; the landscapes, buildings, people and wildlife that give meaning to the places we know’ (S. Clifford and A. King, England in Particular: A celebration of the commonplace, the local, the vernacular and the distinctive (2006), p. ix).

EUL MS 416/PRO/14/1/19 – Colour proof for ‘England in Particular’ with annotations (and many sticky notes!)

In 2002, Common Ground received a grant of £80,000 from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) to fund the project. The project was launched with a media release on 17 April 2002, in which Common Ground asked ‘to hear from people about their local stories, details, examples, observations about the particularity of everyday places’ (EUL MS 416/PRO/14/3/1). This local knowledge was collected by Common Ground and, in addition to the charity’s own research, was used to compile the finished book, entitled England in Particular: A celebration of the commonplace, the local, the vernacular and the distinctive. It was published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2006 and became the largest single publication produced by Common Ground.

EUL MS 416/PRO/14/2/1 – Research material for ‘England in Particular’, arranged alphabetically

As the project required extensive research by the charity, research material constitutes a large proportion of this section of the archive. Common Ground organised most of this material into red lever arch files (see photograph above) and divided it alphabetically into sections by subject within each file – very much like an encyclopedia! Each file is labelled with the first and last subject represented in the file; for example, the very first file in this series is labelled ‘Abbeys to Agricultural Shows’ and the last (the 102nd file!) is labelled ‘Windsor Chair to Zoos’. To make this research material more searchable, I have listed all the subjects represented in each file in the file descriptions. You can find these descriptions in our online catalogue here. Not only will this help researchers to quickly locate material on specific subjects, but it will also enable the identification of subjects that Common Ground researched but did not include in the book.

The England in Particular section of the archive also includes book proposals, book proofs, planning documents, correspondence, briefs for illustrators, press clippings, and promotional postcards and posters. These papers provide considerable insight into the publication process, including the sourcing of artwork, as well as the publicising of the project. You can find the full catalogue description for the England in Particular section here or by clicking the image below.

The description and repackaging of material relating to England in Particular was time consuming and the research material in particular took several weeks to catalogue. Although I enjoy cataloguing, performing the same task for prolonged periods of time can become monotonous, so halfway through the process I decided to take a short break from England in Particular (one of the largest sections of the archive) and spend a week cataloguing material relating to another of the charity’s projects: Producing the Goods (one of the smallest sections of the archive).

EUL MS 416/PRO/15/1/7 – Copies of Common Ground’s Producing the Goods pamphlets

Common Ground worked on the Producing the Goods project between 2005 and 2007. The aim of the project was to promote local, ethical and sustainable production and consumption of goods, including food and drink, markets and market produce, and souvenirs. The project was supported by Defra’s Environmental Action Fund, and the main output of the project was the publication of three pamphlets: ‘Goods that reflect and sustain locality, nature and culture’, ‘Markets and Market Places’ and ‘Souvenirs in Particular’ (see photograph above). In addition, Common Ground launched a ‘Souvenirs in Particular’ campaign to encourage the production of locally distinctive and locally manufactured souvenirs.

EUL MS 416/PRO/15/2 – Research material in the Producing the Goods section of the archive

This section of the archive comprises drafts of the pamphlets, press releases, planning documents, correspondence, reports, press clippings, notes, and research material. In addition to these papers, this section of the archive also includes a number of objects! In the 2000s, Common Ground collected several examples of local products and souvenirs, which it kept with its archive (see photograph below). Unfortunately, the box of souvenirs also contained some food items (including three Cornish Fairings biscuits!), which I had to dispose of so as not to attract mould or pests to the archive. However, the packaging has been retained wherever possible, and I made a note of and photographed all food items that were removed from the archive.

EUL MS 416/PRO/15/3 – Examples of local souvenirs and products

You can find the full catalogue description for the Producing the Goods section here or by clicking the image below.

England in Particular and Producing the Goods were the last Common Ground projects completed by the founders and co-directors of the charity, Sue Clifford and Angela King, before they retired and deposited the Common Ground archive with Special Collections at the University of Exeter in 2013. Above all else, the cataloguing of these sections of the archive impressed upon me the sheer scale of the research conducted by Common Ground for its projects, whether big or small. This intensive research enabled Common Ground to construct evidence-based arguments with which to promote local distinctiveness and encourage people to care for their local environment.

The next sections of the Common Ground archive that I’ll be cataloguing concern two water-related projects – Rhynes, Rivers and Running Brooks and Confluence. I hope to have both sections completed by the end of July, so do pop by again soon for the next update on the cataloguing project!

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

 

Why not start your exploration of the Common Ground archive via our online archives catalogue today?

You can also find out more about the Common Ground archive cataloguing project by taking a look back at our previous blog posts.

John Shebbeare and Oman: past, present and future

The papers of John Digby Shebbeare (1919-2004) are one of the smaller collections in the Middle East Archives, comprising just two small files, a photograph album and an envelope of newspaper cuttings, but they nonetheless provide a unique perspective of Oman’s landscape, both in its political and geographical senses.

John Shebbeare overlooking the old town of Muscat

John Shebbeare was born in Oxfordshire, one of three sons of the Rev. Charles John Shebbeare, who was Rector of Swerford and later chaplain to King George V. John was educated at Aysgarth Preparatory School, Yorkshire, Highfield Preparatory School in Hampshire and Rugby College. Following training at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, he obtained a commission in the Indian Army in 1939 and saw service in India, Egypt, Persia and Iraq, serving with the Poona Horse and eventually attaining the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. His older brother Bill was killed in France in 1944. After retiring from the army in 1948, he was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn and was called to the Bar in 1951. He practised as a lawyer firstly in the family chambers in London and then as a legal advisor in the Department of Health. However, having spent so many years in the Middle East, he was keen to return to the region and secured a job in Baghdad as legal adviser to the consulting water engineers Binnie, Deacon & Gourley.

After spending five or six years in Baghdad, Shebbeare studied Arabic at Shemlan in the Lebanon, then moved to a post as District Resident in Beihan in the Aden Protectorate, (now in Yemen.) When the British withdrew from Aden in 1967 he had no wish to leave the Middle East and contacted Said bin Taimur, the Sultan of Muscat and Oman. Following an interview with the Sultan at Salalah, he was offered – and accepted – the post of ‘Secretary in Internal Affairs’. This was an advisory role in which Shebbeare was meant to guide the Sultan on internal affairs as well as using his legal training to monitor the activities of Oman’s wālis [governors] and qādis [religious judges].

One of John Shebbeare’s many photographs of the Omani falaj system

Oman is a dry and arid country with very low annual rainfall – hence the importance of the irrigation system known as ‘falaj’  أَفْ (plural  أَفْلَاج   aflāj). In classical Arabic, the word أَفْ has nothing to do with water, but refers to the distribution of shares, and as Shebbeare explains in some of his lecture notes (EUL MS 293/1), these are measured in units of time rather than volume. Usually the falaj is owned collectively, with water flowing out from the main channel into individual gardens, for which each landowner buys the right to so many minutes, or hours, per day or week. A nineteenth century document listing the owners of a falaj can be viewed here.

In his notes, Shebbeare describes seeing men cleaning a falaj (an endless talk that has been compared to the proverbial painting of the Forth Road Bridge), as well as some details of their construction, maintenance and ownership. His papers also contain correspondence in English and Arabic relating to a dispute between Seif bin Hamood al Qasimi and the Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) company regarding the reduction of waterflow in the of Falaj al Taibi, – also near Izki – which Seif claimed had been caused by the PDO’s actions in building a pipeline nearby (EUL MS 293/1/). Other papers in the collection relate to a divorce case, offering an insight into the social and marital customs of the region (EUL MS 293/2) within the wider context of village feuds and legal traditions.

Another of Shebbeare’s falaj photos, taken with a camera given to him by Sultan Said bin Taimur

Oman under Sultan Said bin Taimur

Sultan Said bin Taimur (1910-72) had been ruling the country since 1932, when he succeeded his father Taimur bin Faisal as 13th Sultan of Muscat. He inherited a colossal amount of financial debt, owed to Britain and India, as well as a country that was effectively divided into two halves: the cosmopolitan and more secular culture centred on Muscat and the coastal areas, which was controlled by the Sultan, and ‘Oman proper’, the interior region inhabited by tribal groups who were headed by an Imam, the religious leader of the Ibadi sect of Islam.  The latter is described in detail in The Imamate Tradition of Oman (Cambridge University Press, 1987) by John C. Wilkinson, whose papers are also held here at Exeter and will be the next collection to be catalogued: watch this space for another blogpost!

Over his 37 year rule Said bin Taimur succeeded in bringing his country out of debt, due in part to the discovery of oil. Extracting this was not easy as the wells lay in areas controlled by the tribes, and tension over the intrusion by oil workers led to violent clashes and a series of armed conflicts between the Sultan’s forces and the tribes. The Imamate finally came to an end in 1959, but this was achieved only through military support from Britain. The Sultan moved his residence 800 km away from Muscat to Salalah, and became increasingly reclusive, refusing to leave his palace and accessible only by appointment or through wireless contact shared with a select few. His determination to avoid returning to debt resulted in decades of financial parsimony, with hardly any investment in infrastructure or technology, an almost complete absence of education, and an isolated, anachronistic society that was described by outsiders as ‘medieval’. Discontent and unrest had been growing since the mid-1950s, especially in the Dhofar region, and the Sultan was increasingly reliant upon the British government for support.

Oman has over 500 castles and forts dotted across its landscape, many of them well-preserved

Suspicious of intrigue among relatives, Said avoided placing significant power in the hands of any senior family members and preferred instead to appoint outsiders – like Shebbeare – to senior positions in his government. Over 60% of the army’s rank and file – and almost all the officers – were British. The post of Minister of Internal Affairs was held by Ahmad bin Ibrahim Al Bu Said from 1939 to 1970, but the Sultan shrewdly limited his power by devolving some of his responsibilities onto Shebbeare, the Governor of Muscat, Shihab bin Faysal, Governor of Al-Sharquiyah, Ahmad bin Muhammad al-Harithi, and Director of Education, Ismail bin Khalil al-Rasasi. Other British officials in the administration included L.B. Hirst, Secretary for Petroleum Affairs, C.J. Pelly, Director of Planning and Development with William Heber-Percy as his secretary. Many of these appointments came in 1967 as oil revenues began to stream in, following the discovery of commercial quantities of oil in 1964.Francis Hughes, Managing Director of Petroleum Development (PDO) wielded more power and influence with the Sultan than many of his senior administrators, to whom Hughes was often asked to pass on official messages.

The Sultan’s distrustful isolationism extended to his treatment of his son Qaboos, who had returned to Oman in 1966 after being educated in England. He was kept under virtual house arrest in his father’s palace, isolated from political activities and contact with government officials except a select few permitted by the Sultan. As Sir William Luce commented in March 1970, the Sultan’s ‘inhuman treatment of his son’ had turned Qaboos into a potential rebel, and his policy of handing all senior posts to British and Indians rather than his own people had made the country ‘ripe for revolution’ (EUL MS 146/1/3/4). Luce (despite accusations made to the contrary) played no part in the forthcoming coup, and his prescient analysis of the situation stemmed from his intimate knowledge of the region and years of experience dealing with Gulf politics and culture.

The Coup of 1970 and Shebbeare’s Departure from Oman

On 23 July 1970 Qaboos forced his father to hand over power in a (relatively) bloodless coup. He was supported in this by the British, including intelligence officer Captain Timothy Landon, who had trained with Qaboos at Sandhurst and had been visiting him in Salalah, and Col. Hugh Oldman, the former commander of Oman’s armed forces who had returned from retirement in February 1970 as Defence Secretary. Said bin Taimur was deposed and sent into exile, spending the last two years of his life in the Dorchester Hotel in London, where he died on 1972. Under Sultan Qaboos the new government was restructured, with most of the British officials – Shebbeare included – losing their posts. Qaboos appointed his uncle, Sayyid Tariq bin Taimur, as Prime Minister of Oman, although such was the extent of the isolation imposed by his father, the two men had never met before. During his preparatory work for the founding of the UAE, Sir William Luce met with Sayyid Tariq bin Taimur at the Bustan Hotel in Dubai on 7 September 1970. He recorded their conversation in detail, and later wrote up a report entitled Thoughts on Oman in which he quotes Tariq as saying: ‘we will keep Oldman, but there are some British officials we do not need’ [EUL MS 146/1/3/7]. Hugh Oldman was indeed one of the few who was kept on, and among the papers in the archive is a letter from him to Shebbeare, dated 20 September 1970, confirming the dissolution of the Interim Advisory Council of which he had been a member. (This had been set up to fill the vacuum created by the departure of the old sultan.)

Letter from Hugh Oldman to John Shebbeare (EUL MS 293/1)

After spending a few months visiting friends in Pakistan, Shebbeare returned to Oman and embarked on a series of travels around the country, walking alone in the mountains as well as exploring regions he had not visited while employed by the sultan. He records these travels in fifty pages of hand-written notes that were used in preparation for a lecture about Oman he gave in the mid-1970s.

Photograph by John Shebbeare

Under Qaboos, Oman embarked on a process of modernization and reform, which included huge advances in education, healthcare and technology. The country’s name changed from ‘Muscat and Oman’ to simply ‘Oman’, and with Sultan Said’s isolationism reversed, friendly contacts were established with other countries in what has proved over time to be a remarkably flexible and well-balanced approach to foreign relations.

Meanwhile, after returning to the UK, Shebbeare became a teacher at Little Hampden Manor School before eventually retiring to East Leigh House in the village of Coldridge near Crediton, in Devon. He retained links with Oman through membership of the Anglo-Omani Society and was also active in local history, being chairman of the Okehampton History Society for many years, attending meetings of the Crediton Area History and Museum Society, and acting as churchwarden and bellringer of St Matthew’s Church, Coldridge. He died in October 2004.

Studying Oman

The next few years are going to be an exciting time for anyone wishing to pursue research into Oman, for a number of reasons:

Sultan Qaboos, now 78, is still the Sultan of Oman, and after 49 years on the throne he is the Arab world’s longest-serving leader. He has no children, and on 3 March 2017 Qaboos issued a royal decree appointing his cousin Sayyid Asaad bin Tariq Al Said as deputy prime minister for international cooperation and the sultan’s special representative – an announcement that was widely seen as indicating Sayyid as his heir and successor. (Sayyid is the son of the sultan’s uncle, former Primie Minister Tariq bin Taimur.) The long reign of Qaboos has been one of relative stability, and it is unclear what the effect might be of a change of ruler. Some have suggested that the Imamate may re-emerge and there have been reports of ‘Ibadi activists’ in recent years seeking to push such an agenda.

Aware of the need to adapt to a rapidly changing world, Oman produced ‘Vision 2020’ in the late 1990s, laying out an ambitious plan for economic diversification, technical development and social equality. Water supply has become a growing concern because of the massive population growth since 1970, with the future development of commodity extraction, environmental issues and the fossil fuel industry all playing a critical role. It will be interesting to see how much of Vision 2020 is realised.

From an archival perspective, 2021 will be of crucial significance as the government papers of Harold Wilson and Edward Heath relating to Britain’s involvement in Oman are due to be released from embargo and should be available for study.  These papers could be profitably augmented with work using Exeter’s archival holdings on Oman, of which the Shebbeare papers form just a small part. The catalogue entries can be found here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Palestine dominates their life’: The Papers of Sir John and Lady Diana Richmond

After retiring from a successful diplomatic career in 1966, Sir John Richmond (1909-90) and his wife Diana (1914-97) settled in Durham, where he had accepted a lectureship in Modern Near East History at the University’s School of Oriental Studies. Following the Six-Day War in June 1967, the Richmonds became increasingly concerned at the suffering of Palestinians living in the occupied territories and the strong media bias prevalent at that time. They were instrumental in founding the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) – along with Michael Adams – and over the next few years devoted themselves to campaigning on behalf of Palestinians.

The extent of this work is evident from the Richmond papers deposited at the University of Exeter’s Special Collections Department, which have now been catalogued and are available for researchers. There are 38 boxes of papers, including correspondence with authors, editors, journalists, diplomats, scholars and activists, folders of press-cuttings, periodicals and pamphlets from the 1920s through to the 1980s, CAABU reports, minutes and newsletters, as well as a wealth of religious ephemera relating to the Richmonds’ work with the CAABU Religious Affairs Group (CRAG) and their interest in inter-religious dialogue. They were both converts to Roman Catholicism and monitored carefully the coverage of Middle Eastern topics – especially the situation in Palestine – in the Catholic press.

Sir John and Lady Diana Richmond at their home in Durham, from a 1979 newspaper article that reported on how ‘Palestine dominated their life’.

The Richmonds’ love for Palestine, as well their attitude towards the Israeli settlement there, owed much to the life and work of Sir John’s father, eminent architect Ernest Tatham Richmond (1874-1955), who had first gone out to the region in 1895 to help prepare illustrations of an ancient temple. An Arabic speaker, he was entrusted with restoration work on Cairo’s mosques and other commissions in both Egypt and Palestine, and at the end of the First World War he obtained an appointment in the British Mandatory Government in Palestine. Although he resigned in 1924 due to his unease about the strongly pro-Zionist policy of his colleagues, Ernest Richmond returned to returned to Jerusalem in 1927 to take up a strictly non-political appointment as Director of the Department of Antiquities, which he held for the next ten years. Among the Richmond papers are several pamphlets and offprints of Ernest Richmond’s scholarly work, and he was referred to frequently in the correspondence and writings of both Sir John and Lady Diana Richmond.

Scrapbook of presscuttings compiled by E.T. Richmond : ‘Palestine, December 1947: some newspaper cuttings describing the events that immediately followed UNO’s decision to partition the country.’ EUL MS 115/25

His son John first visited Palestine as a schoolboy in 1923 and duly followed in his father’s footsteps, learning Arabic, studying antiquities in the Holy Land and taking part in archaeological excavations. During this time his parents became involved with the Ditchling community of Catholic artists and craftsmen, as well as the Dominican priest-scholars of the École Biblique in Jerusalem. Ernest Richmond was received into the Catholic Church in 1924, his wife Margaret in 1928, with John Richmond following soon after while he was a student at Oxford. After a variety of other archaeological expeditions in the Jordan Valley and elsewhere between 1931 and 1936, he joined HM Office of Works, and he was in this position when he married Diana Galbraith on 2 February 1939. Although she had been brought up a Presbyterian, she converted to Catholicism around the time of their marriage.

An offprint of one of Ernest Richmond’s articles, this one offering a strong criticism of the British Mandate and its mistreatment of the Arab population and their grievances. EUL MS 115/25

During the Second World War John Richmond served as an Army Intelligence Officer in Palestine, Syria and Iraq, where his knowledge of Arabic proved invaluable. At the end of July 1946 the Richmonds, with their two young twin daughters, moved to Jerusalem where John had obtained a post as Conservator of Ancient Monuments – with responsibility for the preservation of historic buildings – at the Palestine Museum where his father had worked. This was the time when the British Mandate in Palestine was coming to an end. According to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, Britain was committed to providing a ‘national home for the Jewish people’ in Palestine, but they had also made similar promises to the Arabs in return for military and political support during the First World War. The British were therefore faced with an impossible situation, unable to honour the promises they had made, and increasingly unable to maintain order as Zionist paramilitary groups took up arms to protest against the British refusal to admit Jewish immigrants. The murder of British soldiers, policemen and government officials became a regular occurrence, the most notorious incident being the blowing up of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on 22 July 1946, with the death of over 90 people.

Excerpt from a letter from Diana Richmond to a nun from The Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, 14 July 1975. EUL MS 115/13/1

This occurred ten days before the Richmonds arrived in the city. As an Arabic speaker like his father, John Richmond developed friendships with local Palestinians and their daughters began attending a convent day school run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Zion at Katamon, just outside city. However, with the political situation growing increasingly unstable, it became clear that their hopes of settling in Jerusalem and raising their family here would be impossible. Less than a year after their arrival in Palestine, John Richmond was transferred to the British embassy in Baghdad. The British government announced in September 1947 that the Mandate for Palestine would end at midnight on 14 May 1948 and turned to the United Nations for help in finding a solution. After the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution recommending the adoption of the Partition Plan for Palestine, fighting broke out between Arab and Jewish communities. Over the next few months this would escalate into full-blown war, as the military forces of neighbouring Arab countries responded to the declaration of the new state of Israel on 15 May 1948.

Postcard showing Israeli soldiers by the Suez Canal. EUL MS 115/8/13

During the Richmonds’ subsequent diplomatic postings they continued to visit Palestine and correspond with friends and colleagues in the region, as well as keeping themselves well-informed about developments in both the Arab and Israeli positions. It is fair to say, though, that their support for the Palestinians’ cause and their opposition to Zionism was rooted in the experiences described above, namely the influence of Ernest Richmond and their affection for the land and people they had known prior to 1947. In dozens of her letters, Diana Richmond referred back to her knowledge of this period and the Richmonds’ sense of having a ‘two generation link with Palestine and its peoples’. The strongly personal motives of their later activism gives the archive a fascinating resonance.

A large proportion of the papers relates to the Richmonds’ prolific correspondence with newspaper editors, journalists and representatives of the BBC concerning their coverage of the Middle East and – in particular – Israel’s occupation of Palestine. They monitored the media closely and were quick to challenge anything that they regarded as factual errors, suggestio falsi, biased omissions or misrepresentation. In the days before e-mails, these letters were usually drafted by hand and then typed up; more often than not, they received a personal response, ranging from apologies to defensive counter-arguments and – sometimes – an irritable backlash. Correspondents include William Rees-Mogg, Tom Burns (editor of The Tablet), Gerard Noel (editor of The Catholic Herald), Katy and Soraya Antonius, Dr Israel Shahak, Uri Davis, Dan Gillon, Solly Sachs, Cardinal Heenan, Bishop Ian Ramsey, Sir John Glubb, Norman St John Stevas, Fr. Thomas Corbishley SJ, Herbert McCabe OP, Fr. Henry Wansbrough OSB, Judith Maro, Michael Adams, Mgr. Bruce Kent (CND), Christopher Hollis, Christopher Walker, Stephen Spender, E.H. Gombrich,  Bernard Palmer (editor of The Church Times), US Ambassador Kingman Brewster, Menahem Begin, Laurence Olivier, Mark Braham, Rev. Marcus Braybrooke, various diplomats and Foreign Office officials, as well as MPs such as Christopher Mayhew, Jo Grimond, Roy Jenkins and James Callaghan, Dennis Walters, Andrew Faulds, Jeremy Thorpe and PM Edward Heath.

A page from the Koran, from a pamphlet in the Richmond collection. EUL MS 115/34

Their correspondence related not just to the media but to other activities such as CAABU work, public meetings and lectures, all of which were aimed at raising awareness of the situation in Palestine, encouraging dialogue between the different factions, and promoting a deeper understanding of Islam and the Arab world. Scholars interested in the development of contemporary Islamophobia might be interested in the Richmonds’ efforts to combat the ignorance and hostility shown towards Islam during this period, and what these papers reveal about the cultural positions and attitudes held by those in the media, political and religious circles. The Richmonds were also involved in supporting a range of charitable organisations and activities in the Middle East, such as the Spafford Children’s Hospital in Jerusalem, Musa Alami’s Arab Development Society, UNIPAL and the Friends of Bir Zeit University. They supported the inter-religious dialogue movement Jews-Christians-Muslims (JCM) as well as the British Algerian Society, the Anglo-Arab Association and a number of short-lived or lesser-known groups and publications active in these fields.  They were particularly interested in human rights and collected a large amount of documentary material on conditions in the occupied territories, including reports from prisons and interrogation centres, and material on how the conflict affected Palestinian women and children.

Another significant strand that runs through the Richmond papers and remains of cutting relevance today is the debate over the boundaries between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, particularly in the political sphere where critics of Israeli policy and supporters of the Palestinian cause have often been accused of holding anti-Semitic views. The Richmonds tried to adhere to a definition of Zionism as ‘the political movement arising out of Theodor Herzl’s book, Der Judenstaat, and finding its political expression in part through the series of Zionist congresses’, and were keen to emphasise that their use of the terms ‘pro-’ or ‘anti-Zionist’ could only ever be a political judgment, based on exclusively political criteria. They corresponded with a number of Jewish writers and campaigners, including several non-Zionist Jews, and were at pains to develop a more nuanced debate about the distinctions between sympathy for the Israeli people and criticism of the injustices brought about by Israeli government policy. Unfortunately, they also attracted interest from individuals and organisations who were genuinely anti-Semitic, such as the eccentric but deeply unpleasant National Cleansing Crusade. Anyone with such views received short shrift from the Richmonds, with their communications either unanswered or dismissed with a terse postcard reply, and any material they sent placed in sealed envelopes marked ‘Anti-Semitic Filth.’

A letter from Emile Marmorstein to John Richmond. EUL MS 115/5/12

In addition to the correspondence and writings of the Richmonds themselves – the latter of which include typed articles, talks, memoirs, translations and verse – the collection holds a large amount of secondary material relating to the history of Palestine and political activism, from the 1920s through to the 1980s. These include scholarly papers and offprints from academic journals, as well as a wide selection of more radical publications such as home-made ‘zines’ and student papers that reflect the artwork and graphic design of the underground counter-culture of the 1960s and 1970s: a reminder that the Richmonds’ daughter Sophie worked as secretary for the Sex Pistols and helped design some of their iconic artwork.

Just some of the wide range of periodicals and pamphlets and other literature held in the Richmond collection

It is sometimes forgotten now that pro-Palestinian activism in Britain was not a phenomenon that took off in the 1980s, but it actually had a much longer tradition. An examination of the Richmond papers will help researchers gain a better understanding of these activities and their place within the literary, religious and political culture of late 20th century Britain.

The online catalogue of the Richmond papers can be explored here.

Bahrain’s Silver Screens: the development of the cinema in Bahrain, as viewed through the diaries of Charles Belgrave

Charles Belgrave was adviser to the Sheikh of Bahrain from 1926 to 1957, and during those thirty years he was an exceptionally busy man. In addition to his duties advising the royal family and steering British policy in the region, he set up the police force, sat in judgement in the law courts, oversaw improvements in the health and education systems on the island and played a key role in supporting the establishment of the petroleum industry in Bahrain after oil was discovered in the early 1930s. He took a hands-on approach to all these activities, taking part in midnight raids on illicit arak stills, interrogating prisoners in the police cells, interviewing applicants for various posts on the island and generally involving himself in the minutiae of everyday life in Bahrain. His personal influence in the region was so extensive that he was referred to not only as المستشار (‘the Adviser’) but also as رئيس الخليج (‘Chief of the Gulf.’)

Despite this he was able to make time for leisure activities, including playing bridge, reading novels and listening to gramophone records. At times it is clear that the constant round of social engagements – integral to his job – could be intensely tedious, and there are countless references to dull dinners with ‘awful’ people and ‘sticky’ conversation. One form of entertainment that does begin to appear more and more regularly in his diary is the cinema. Although his references to picture-going are generally brief, Belgrave’s comments provide an insight not only into his taste in movies, but also into the changing nature of early cinema, different routines and patterns of cinema attendance that developed over these three decades.

The first attempt to set up a cinema in Bahrain was in 1922 when local businessman Mahmood Al Saati began running an impromptu movie house in a cottage on the north coast of Manama using a small imported projector. (Al Saati’s grandson is the filmmaker Bassam Mohammed Al-Thawadi – born 1960 – who directed Bahrain’s first feature film, The Barrier, in 1990.) However, when Belgrave arrived on the island in 1926 there is no reference in his diaries to any cinema being in operation, although he did go and see some films while in India trying to recruit policemen for Bahrain. In Karachi on 8 November 1926 he went to see Dante’s Inferno which he described as ‘rather depressing… dreary performance’. It is likely that this was not the 1911 Italian version but the more recent American adaptation directed by Henry Otto. Eight days later, still in India, he sat through ‘a very bad show called Helen of Troy – most disconnected and badly done.’ It is unclear whether Belgrave was frustrated by the film itself or the manner of its screening; problems with mutilated prints and faulty projectors would be a recurring feature of Bahrain picture-going in its early years.

On 2 August 1939 Belgrave went to see ‘Robin Hood’ and wrote in his diary afterward: ‘coloured, rather like a pantomime, very elaborate and some beautiful scenes, but all very juvenile’.

The Yatim cinema venture

On 21 September 1927 Belgrave ‘signed the monopoly of a cinema for three years to Ali Yatim’, adding in his diary ‘Hope he will get a move on with it.’ Belgrave had encountered Ali Yatim before, describing him as a ‘one-eyed English-speaking protégé’ of the American Mission, where he had been educated. He had a brother, Mohamed Katim, who lived away but had a bad reputation for his moral behaviour and lack of adherence to Muslim laws on food and drink. Ali died before the end of the year, however, and according to local custom, Mohamed returned to Bahrain to marry his brother’s widow. Ali’s son Hussein was sent to England to be educated at a school in Brighton (Diary, 1 January 1928). Plans for the cinema continued to be discussed, with Ghaus, the Indian contractor who had accompanied Belgrave to the cinema in Karachi calling about the matter on 14 January 1928; Sheik Hamed, the ruler of Bahrain, agreed to lower the cost of the ground to be used. The following day Ghaus returned for a lengthy talk about the question of censorship, as already strong opposition was being voiced to the proposal on religious grounds: at the council meeting on 31 January there were forceful speeches against the idea of a cinema, while the local Kadis ‘sent letters of protest.’ A wealthy pearl merchant, Ali bin Seggar, came to Belgrave to express his concern that children would be tempted to go to the cinema, ‘spend money on it, and if their parent didn’t give them money, they might steal it’ (Diary, 5 February) and he returned on 11 April to make further protests about the evils of the cinema. It is clear, however, that at least some of this resistance was due to the fierce business rivalry between the Katim family and another influential merchant Yusuf Kanoo, who was leading opposition to the cinema. The dispute seems to have succeeded in stalling any progress with the Yatim cinema. Mohamed Yatim pursued other lines of business, working as an interpreter and assistant for oil contractor Major Frank Holmes, and Belgrave noted in his diary (16 May 1932) that ‘Mohamed Yatim now sells film that fits my camera.’ The following summer, young Hussein Yatim – now returned from school – ‘came to see me to ask if the Govt. would allow a cinema here.’ Belgrave discussed the matter with him but commented privately ‘it is rather a doubtful project financially.’ (Diary, 31 July 1933).

‘After quite a good dinner we went out to Awali to see a film, Col. Blimp, a very good picture, extremely English & Well acted, a long picture.’ (Diary, 17 July 1945)

Other Venues

In the meantime, the number of places where films could be screened was growing. Belgrave recorded seeing a film – ‘a talkie, which I enjoyed enormously’ – on board the naval cruiser HMS Hawkins (9 November 1933), and then another film at the Agency building (18 December 1933). The Political Agent and his staff occupied a two-storey building on the shoreline at the northern tip of Manama town, with a tennis court and pool, although it is not clear precisely when the projector was installed. Belgrave’s diary records occasions when the machine failed to work.

Oil had been discovered on Bahrain in 1932, beginning with a test well at Jebel Dukhan; a settlement of Nissan huts was built here to house the workers of BAPCO (the Bahrain Petroleum Company) which included catering and recreation facilities. Belgrave records a meeting with Percy Loch, the Political Agent, ‘to discuss a cinema at oil camp’ (Diary, 10 January 1935) and a small cinema seems to have begun operating at the Jebel camp soon after. As the oil industry developed with the construction of Sitra refinery, a new town was built on the dry plains of Awali – about twelve miles south of Manama – on a much larger scale. A cinema was also established here in 1937. Running of this cinema was taken over by a formal Club committee two years later, and Belgrave was a regular attendee of screenings here. Following the destruction of this cinema in a fire on Christmas Eve 1943, an open air screen was set up which lasted until a new auditorium was built in 1952.

There are potential problems with having screens out in the open, and after watching Bambi here, Belgrave recorded ‘an attractive picture but the moon on the screen took much of the colour from it’ (Diary, 6 March 1944). A third cinema screen was also available at the British naval base at Juffair, on the southern edge of Manama, which was established in April 1935.

Belgrave’s diary entries during the late 1930s show that he went to watch films at Awali, Jefel and Juffair, as well as the Agency, although much of the time he just wrote ‘to cinema’ without recording the location. Many of these occasions were dictated by social engagements, with an invitation to dinner at the Agency or with oil managers followed by a film screening.

Not all these films were commercial products. The above-mentioned Percy Gordon Loch – Political Agent on Bahrain from 1932 to 1937 – was himself an amateur film-maker, as was his wife Eleanor, and screenings of their home-movies were a regular event on Bahrain’s social calendar, as is evident from Belgrave’s diary entries, for example, on 27 May, 6 November and 25 December 1933, and 8, 17 and 22 February 1934. Some three dozen of these films have been preserved in the Dalyell Collection – see here for more details.

Commercial Cinema in Bahrain

The Agency, BAPCO and naval cinemas were all of course private ventures, accessible only to employees of these particular institutions and their guests. In his Annual Report for Year 1356 (March 1937 to February 1938) Belgrave recorded that ‘Permission was granted by the Government to The Bahrain Theatre Company to open a cinema in Bahrain and a piece of ground on the south side of Manama town was leased to the company on a long lease. The company consists of several of the younger Shaikhs of the Ruling Family as well as two local Arab merchants. Building was begun during the year.’ [The Bahrain Government Annual Reports, 1924-1956. Vol.II: 1937-42. (Gerrards Cross: Archive Editions, 1986) p.24] One of these merchants was almost certainly Hussein Ali Yatim, the other being Abdulla Al Zayed (1894-1945), something of a media entrepreneur: he installed Bahrain’s first modern printing press in 1935 and four years later launched its first newspaper – Al Bahrain  – which was published between 1939 and 1944.

The Manama cinema had no air-conditioning, and during the winter season screenings were held outside with the films projected onto the wall. The following year’s Annual Report noted that the cinema, which opened in the summer of 1937, showed a different picture every week, with ‘Indian, Egyptian and American films exhibited in rotation. Films are subject to Government censorship but so far only one has been prohibited as being likely to offend local taste. It is understood that the venture is proving a financial success. [The Bahrain Government Annual Reports, 1924-1956. Vol.II: 1937-42. (Gerrards Cross: Archive Editions, 1986) Year 1357, p.31] The following year saw another innovation, as the cinema began adopting the BAPCO practice of showing newsreels before the main feature, which proved so popular that many local Arabs began flocking to the cinema to see the newsreels and then leaving before the start of the movie. [The Bahrain Government Annual Reports, 1924-1956. Vol.II: 1937-42. (Gerrards Cross: Archive Editions, 1986) Year 1358, p.43]

‘James and I went to the local cinema and saw a very good film Blue Lamp about the Metropolitan police, much enjoyed it. It was quite full, a lot of 14 year old Arabs in the 3/- seats – it is amazing how they have so much money to spend. Rather hot in the cinema.’ (Diary, 18 August 1952.) James was his son, born in 1929.

Belgrave’s tastes were not widely shared among these Bahraini cinemagoers, who much preferred to go and see the latest films from Egypt. Westerners perhaps fail to appreciate that during its ‘golden age’ prior to nationalisation in the 1960s, the Egyptian film industry was the third largest in the world, with around fifty new films being produced every year – a figure that increased after the 1952 revolution led by Nasser that overthrew the monarchy. To a slightly lesser extent, Indian films were also popular, which can be linked both to the presence of a large Indian community on Bahrain and the quality of Indian film-making during the 1940s and 1950s.  Egyptian films were the staple at the Pearl Cinema on Government Road, the opening of which was attended by Belgrave (Diary, 22 July 1948), and the Ahali Cinema in Manama, a commercial venture by former pearl merchant Ibrahim Muhammed Al-Zayyani that also opened in 1948. Such entrepreneurship was characteristic of the period of rapid expansion and consumerism that followed the Second World War, with the Pearl Cinema forming just part of a large business empire run by Andulaziz bin Hasan Al Gosaibi and his family, who had links to Saudi Arabia. Cinema going was now increasingly part of a new leisure culture enjoyed by a younger and more affluent Arab population, and no longer the preserve of the small Anglo-American elite as it had been in the 1930s. Belgrave’s diaries provide information not only about the growth of Bahrain’s cinema industry, but also about the cultural development of film screening practices and the changing habits of cinema-goers.

Finally, Belgrave’s diaries also reveal what he thought about dozens of well-known movie classics…

The Great Dictator (Charlie Chaplin, 1940) ‘Disappointing, some good items but it didn’t hang together – bits of slapdash comedy and rather heavy straight stuff which didn’t mix and a long dull propaganda speech to finish. A most disappointing show.’ (29 November 1941)

Jane Eyre (Stevenson, 1943) starring Joan Fontaine: ‘fairly good but too much darkness – the modern tendency in films seems to have them almost black out. I suppose it saves sets.’ (14 July 1945)

The Keys of the Kingdom (Stahl, 1944) starring Gregory Peck: ‘very well acted & close to the story but on the whole somewhat depressing, a good many people sniffed.’ (19 February 1947)

Caesar and Cleopatra (Pascal, 1945) starring Claude Rains and Vivien Leigh: ‘I was disappointed in the film, some good colour shots – but I don’t care for history brought up to date with modern slang & a very flighty Cleopatra.   (23 January 1948)

 Dark Mirror (Siodmak, 1946) starring Olivia de Havilland: ‘rotten, about two tiresome twins, one of whom did a murder… bored stiff’ (14 August 1948)

Cataloguing the Common Ground archive: ‘Parish Maps’

The Parish Maps project is arguably one of the most popular and enduring initiatives of the arts and environmental charity, Common Ground. The project sought to encourage people to look around their local area, identify what is distinctive about it and what they value, and then to chart this on a map of their ‘parish’.

Common Ground used the term ‘parish’ as a way to describe a home place. As the English language has no single specific word for the sense of belonging to a place (such as the German Heimat), Common Ground chose the word ‘parish’ to imply this, due to its connotations with familiarity, belonging and localness. This allowed parish map makers more freedom and fluidity in interpreting what part of their local area they considered to be their ‘parish’; they could create a map according to administrative boundaries, or adapt the boundaries of their map to their own sense of place, whether that be their street, neighbourhood, village, town, district or region.

EUL MS 416/PRO/5 – Postcards of parish maps in the Common Ground archive

But what exactly is a parish map? According to a Common Ground pamphlet, printed in 1996:

‘A parish map demonstrates what people claim as their own locality and what they value in it – wild life, history, work, landmarks, buildings, people, festivals. It does not have to be cartographically correct, but by illustrating locally distinctive activities and features, it helps you to focus on the everyday things that make your place significant to you and different from the next…Parish Maps are a starting point for local action, they are demonstrative, subjective statements made by and for a community, exploring and showing what it cares about in its locality…Parish Maps can be made by anyone in any way, of any place’. [EUL MS 416/PRO/5/4/8, Common Ground pamphlet ‘Parish Maps’ (1996), p. 3-5]

EUL MS 416/PRO/5/4/2 – Parish Maps publications in the Common Ground archive, including leaflets, newsletters, pamphlets and books

The idea for the Parish Maps project grew out of Common Ground’s book ‘Holding Your Ground: an action guide to local conservation’, and work began soon after its publication in 1985. Common Ground commissioned eighteen artists to create maps of their home parishes for the exhibition ‘Knowing Your Place: an exhibition of artists’ Parish Maps’, which opened in March 1987 and toured to twelve venues across the UK. In the same year, Common Ground published two pamphlets entitled ‘Parish Maps’ and ‘The Parish Boundary’, as well as a video and information pack produced together with ACRE entitled ‘The Local Jigsaw’.

The Parish Maps project appeared to quickly capture the public’s imagination and inspired the creation of thousands of parish maps by individuals and community groups across the UK. Common Ground offered advice to parish map makers, and information about new parish maps was sent to and enthusiastically collected by Common Ground. In 1996, the charity selected a number of examples of these parish maps to put on display in a national exhibition entitled ‘from place to PLACE: an Exhibition of Peoples’ Parish Maps’. It opened at The Barbican Centre in London, before going on tour to venues across the country. The exhibition led to the publication of a collection of essays entitled ‘from place to PLACE: maps and Parish Maps’ (1996).

The Parish Maps section of the archive has taken several weeks to catalogue because I wanted it to be as accessible as possible. In addition, I was keen to remove the abundance of plastic sleeves in which many of the papers had been kept by the organisation (now replaced with acid-free paper) – a time-consuming but worthwhile task! The files in the archive that were in unsuitable packaging have been placed into folders and boxes. Some files have retained their original housings of ring binders and box files, providing interesting insight into the charity’s approach to recordkeeping.

Parish Maps boxes and files in the Common Ground archive

Common Ground organised their files of collected material relating to the creation of peoples’ parish maps by region. To enable these files to be as searchable as possible, I was keen to identify the names of the places in which parish maps had been made and include these in the file descriptions on the catalogue. Not only will this hopefully allow you to quickly find information on particular parish maps, but it will also enable you to compare and contrast the numbers of parish maps made in different regions of the UK. For example, based on the material collected by Common Ground alone, Devon stands out as the region in which the most parish maps were created! (See the file description below)

As many of the files in the Parish Maps section of the archive include recent correspondence containing personal names and addresses, some restrictions to access apply, in accordance with current data protection legislation. You can contact us at: libspc@exeter.ac.uk for more information.

The files in the Parish Maps section of the archive have been arranged into five series: files of assorted material; files relating to the making of peoples’ parish maps; files relating to exhibitions and events; publications and promotional material; photographs; and publicity material and press clippings. You can click on the image below to take you straight to the catalogue to start exploring!

I have now started cataloguing my next section of the archive: material relating to the creation of Common Ground’s encyclopedia ‘England in Particular: A celebration of the commonplace, the local, the vernacular and the distinctive’. With more than 200 files, this will be a challenge and my largest section so far to catalogue, so do pop by again soon for the next update on the cataloguing project!

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

 

Why not start your exploration of the Common Ground archive via our online archives catalogue today?

You can also find out more about the Common Ground archive cataloguing project by taking a look back at our previous blog posts.

For more information on the Parish Maps project and images of parish maps, see the Common Ground website.

Discovering Sister Catherine ‘Kitty’ Witham in the Syon Abbey Collection

You may have seen that the Syon Abbey archive was in the news recently! On Tuesday 12 March 2019, an article was published in The Times concerning a letter written by Sister Catherine ‘Kitty’ Witham to her mother in 1756. The letter, which is part of the Syon Abbey archive, vividly describes the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 and its consequences for the nuns of Syon Abbey. The University of Exeter’s press release about the letter can be read here.

There were several reasons why we wanted to raise awareness of Sister Kitty’s letter in the archive. Extracts from the letter have been published before, so it is not a new discovery as such, but until now it appears to have only been examined as an account of the earthquake. What we thought made this letter doubly interesting is the vivid description of the earthquake and the information we can glean from it about the lives of Sister Kitty and the Syon nuns.

Signature of Sister Kitty Witham from a letter (EUL MS 389/PERS/WITHAM)

Sister Kitty seemed a particularly interesting nun to focus on. In 1749, at the age of about 32, Sister Catherine Witham made her vow of profession as a choir nun at Syon Abbey in Lisbon, where she died 44 years later in 1793. Apart from these bare facts, we would know very little of Sister Kitty, had she not written the letter about the earthquake, inscribed six manuscripts, and added her notes in several of the printed books in the library. Not only do we learn details of her religious and personal life from these records, but also an indication that she enjoyed (and I would argue, had a talent for) writing. As Sister Kitty’s presence can be found across the three main parts of the Syon Abbey Collection – the archive, the library, and the medieval and modern manuscript collection –  she seemed the ideal person through which to highlight and raise awareness of the wider collection.

This blog post will explore some of the items in the Syon Abbey Collection that relate to Sister Kitty, allowing us to discover more about this remarkable woman and her life at Syon Abbey. It also includes details about a second letter from Sister Kitty, a copy of which surprisingly found its way to us following the publication of the article in The Times – so do keep reading for more information!

Sister Kitty in the Archive

The first item to explore is, of course, the letter of Sister Kitty Witham regarding the Great Lisbon Earthquake. Dated 27 January 1756 – almost two months after the initial earthquake on 1 November 1755 – Sister Kitty writes to her ‘dear[e]st Mama’ from ‘Poor Sion Houes‘, with a paragraph at the end of the letter addressed to her ‘Dear[e]st Aunt Ashmall’. In the letter, Sister Kitty describes the earthquake which ‘began like the rattleing of Coaches‘ and resulted in the walls ‘A Shakeing, & a falling down‘. She also gives an account of the destruction of the city of Lisbon – ‘them that has seen Lisbon befor this dreadfull Calammety & to see itt Now would be greatly Shockt the Citty is Nothing but a heep of Stones‘ – and the fates of various of its inhabitants, including the President of the English College.

But what do we learn about the nuns of Syon Abbey? Firstly, we gain insight into their morning routine. Sister Kitty sets the scene: ‘that Morning we had all been att Communion, I had done the quire & then went to gett Our Breakfasts, which is tea & bread & butter when tis not fasting time, we was all in diferent places in the Convent, some in the Refectory, some in there Cells, Others hear & there; my Lady Abbyss her two Nices Sis[te]r Clark & my Self was att Breakfast in a little Rome by the Common which when they had done they went to prepair for Hye Mass, which was to be gin att ten a Clock. I was washing up the tea things, when the Dreadfull Afaire hapend‘. We also learn that all the nuns of Syon Abbey survived the earthquake, which killed thousands of others in Lisbon, as Sister Kitty writes, ‘so Blessed be his holy Name we all mett together, & run no further neither had we Any thoughts of runing Aney futher, we was all as glad to See One another Alive & well as Can be Expresst‘. Describing the aftermath of the earthquake and the many aftershocks, Sister Kitty explains that the community first slept under a pear tree (‘for Eeight days, I & some Others being so vere frighted Every time the wind blode the tree, I thought we was A going‘), then later a ‘little place with Sticks & Coverd with Matts‘, before moving into a ‘Woden houes Made in the garden‘.

And what do we find out about Sister Kitty? One of the most powerful features of the letter is Sister Kitty’s honesty about her feelings of anxiety following the earthquake. Aftershocks from the earthquake appear to have continued for several months, leaving the nuns ‘with agreat deell of fear, & Aprehension‘, and uncertain of their fates. Sister Kitty is clearly aware of her own mortality (‘if the Earthquake had hapend in the Night as itt did not thank God, we should all or Most of us been Killd in Our Beds‘) and seems convinced the end of the world is nigh, writing ‘Only God knows how long we have [to?] live for I belive this World will not last long‘. We also discover that Sister Kitty had a very close relationship with her family and friends in England, and that she appears to have remained in regular contact with them. Throughout the letter she frequently refers to and enquires after friends and family, and towards the end of the letter she sends her regards to her father, promising ‘not to be so troublesom as I have been‘.

The letter from Sister Kitty is very fragile, with some damage and evidence of historic conservation efforts. It is also slightly mysterious, as it remains unclear how this letter addressed to her mother found its way to the community and into the Syon Abbey archive. However, there are a number of early to mid-twentieth-century transcripts of the letter in the archive, suggesting the letter was in possession of the community for at least 50 years before Syon Abbey closed in 2011. What we do know is that the letter was kept in the safe at Syon Abbey, indicating how special it was to the community.

 

Another trace of Sister Kitty in the archive is her vow of profession. One of the great highlights of the Syon Abbey archive are the 296 vows of sisters recorded between 1607 and 2010 – and Sister Kitty is amongst them. Her vow is recorded in Latin in a document dated 26 July 1749, signed by ‘Sister Catherine Witham‘ and the abbess ‘S[is]ter Winifred Hill’, and decorated with a red border.

EUL MS 389/COM/2/1/4/23 – Vow of Sister Catherine Witham, dated 26 July 1749. Provided for research and reference only. Permission to publish, copy, or otherwise use this work must be obtained from University of Exeter Special Collections (http://as.exeter.ac.uk/heritage-collections/) and all copyright holders.

More than 150 years after the Great Lisbon Earthquake, Sister Kitty’s name reappears in the archive. Correspondence dated 1911 from a relation of Sister Kitty mentions a painting of the nun in their possession [ref: EUL MS 389/COR/1/1/19]. However, there is no other trace of this painting in the archive, and its whereabouts remain unknown.

Sister Kitty in the Manuscript Collection

Sister Kitty’s name appears in several of the modern manuscripts in the collection. The collection includes six manuscripts either completely transcribed by Sister Kitty, or containing inscriptions by her. Some examples of inscriptions by her include: ‘ ‘Sis[te]r Catherine de S[an]ta. Anna Witham her Book with leave‘ [EUL MS 262/add2/14] and ‘Sister Catherine Witham de S[an]ta. Anna her Book of Delight, given her by the good Sister Monica Hodgson in 1753‘ [EUL MS 262/add1/31]. The image below is from a manuscript containing a transcript of the Stations of the Cross by Sister Kitty, entitled ‘Estacao’ [EUL MS 262/add2/25]. It includes the note:

‘Sis[te]r Kitty Wit[ha]m

Her Book god giue her graes

on itt to Looke.

And when this you see I hope you

will Remember to pray for me’

EUL MS 262/add2/25 – Manuscript volume entitled ‘Estacao’. Provided for research and reference only. Permission to publish, copy, or otherwise use this work must be obtained from University of Exeter Special Collections (http://as.exeter.ac.uk/heritage-collections/) and all copyright holders.

Sister Kitty in the Library Collection

Not only has Sister Kitty inscribed six manuscripts, but her notes can also be found in several printed books in the Syon Abbey Library Collection. However, there has not yet been a survey undertaken to identify all the volumes containing inscriptions by Sister Kitty. A recently-catalogued book in the library was found to have some particularly interesting notes by Sister Kitty in its flyleaves [Syon Abbey 17–/CAT]. Entitled ‘Officium B. Mariae‘, it includes several pages of Sister Kitty’s notes, as well inscriptions of names of other nuns. Sister Kitty signs the first flyleaf ‘Sis[te]r Catherine de Santa Anna Witham her Book of Consolation‘, and the following pages contain prayers and notes. In light of the letter concerning the Lisbon Earthquake, the second flyleaf is particularly interesting: a transcript of a prayer entitled ‘in time of Earthquakes‘. The same page includes a note of the marriage of her ‘Nephew & Nece Frankell‘, again indicating a close relationship with her family in England. Images of the flyleaves of this book can be viewed in the slideshow below.

A surprise letter from Sister Kitty!

We received a wonderful surprise in the week following the publication of the article in The Times! A copy of a second letter by Sister Kitty was kindly donated to our collections by her five-times-great-nephew. Dated 1763, eight years after the Great Lisbon Earthquake, it is once again addressed to ‘My Dear Mama‘. The contrast between the two letters is striking; the second letter finds Sister Kitty noticeably happier, without the uncertainty and fear that had gripped her while she was writing the first letter. Two passages in the letter particularly stood out to me. In the first, she reflects upon her decision to become a nun, and writes: ‘tis Certainly a most happy Life & for my part I like itt every Day better & better & rejoice for haveing made such a happy happy Choice’. In the second, she reports on her role that week as hebdomadary (person appointed for the week to sing the chapter mass and lead the recitation of the canonical hours) in the abbey. She writes: ‘my Duty this week is hebdommadarium which in there weeks Officiates the Devine Office in the quire[.] they rise the first & rings the Bells & give the Nuns Lights[.] this we have in Our turns from the Oldest to the youngest in the convent[.] I darsay was D[ea]r Mama to hear me Sing in the quire she would be much Delighted for they tell me I have a very sweet voice which I thank God for itt as its a good talent for a Nun’. Despite knowing that the convent in Lisbon was rebuilt soon after its destruction and community life continued at Syon Abbey, it is comforting to have this written confirmation that Sister Kitty found happiness and hope in life again after surviving a terrible natural disaster.

Conclusion

I hope you have enjoyed discovering more about Sister Kitty Witham with me! This blog post has focused only one sister in Syon Abbey’s 596-year history; however, the Syon Abbey Collection contains many more stories of the remarkable women who joined this community. The archive, manuscripts and books are now all catalogued and available to access at the University of Exeter. For more information about the wider Syon Abbey Collection, please do take a look at our guide, which you can find here.

I would like to extend my most sincere thanks to Emma Sherriff and Connor Spence in the Digital Humanities Lab at the University of Exeter for creating high-resolution images of the letter, vow, and book of Sister Kitty Witham.

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

 

A summary of material relating to Sister Catherine ‘Kitty’ Witham in the Syon Abbey Collection:

EUL MS 389/COM/2/1/4/23 – Vow of Sister Catherine Witham (1749)

EUL MS 389/PERS/WITHAM – Manuscript letter from Sister Kitty Witham to her mother (1756)

EUL MS 389/COR/1/1/19 – Bundle of correspondence, W-Z

EUL MS 459 – Photocopy of a letter from Sister Catherine Witham of Syon Abbey to her mother in 1763

EUL MS 262/add1/29 – Small manuscript volume entitled ‘The Testament of the Sovle Made By S. Charles Borromeus, Card[inal] & Arch Bishop of Milan’ (1749)

EUL MS 262/add1/30 – Manuscript volume of prayers for the use of Sister Catherine [Kitty] Witham (c 1749-1793)

EUL MS 262/add1/31- Manuscript volume entitled ‘The Practice of the Spirituall Exercises of Saint Ignatius. The inscription on the flyleaf reads: ‘Sister Catherine Witham de S[an]ta. Anna her Book of Delight, given her by the good Sister Monica Hodgson in 1753’ (1753)

EUL MS 262/add2/14 – Manuscript volume marked ‘M.S. 14’ and entitled ‘Howe and why our office is to be sayd every day In the Hours’ (c 1749-1793)

EUL MS 262/add2/24 – Manuscript volume marked ‘MS 24’ and entitled ‘A Collection of Small Prayers either Daily Or Frequently said in Community. For the use of Sister Kitty Witham’ (c 1761)

EUL MS 262/add2/25 – Manuscript volume entitled ‘Estacao’ (c 1749-1793)

Please note: the Syon Abbey Library Collection includes a number of books containing inscriptions by Sister Kitty, but a comprehensive survey has not been undertaken.

Belgrave’s Books

What sort of books might be read by a young British administrator posted to the Middle East? To celebrate World Book Day, it seemed like an interesting exercise to have a skim through the diaries of Charles Belgrave (1894-1969), who was adviser to the rulers of Bahrain from 1926 to 1957. He wrote in his diary almost every day, and in addition to keeping a record of the day’s events, personal meetings, administrative affairs and official matters, he frequently noted details about books that he had read, or films he had seen at the local cinema (which will probably be the subject of a future blogpost.)

Given the extent of Belgrave’s responsibilities on Bahrain, it is remarkable that he found any time for reading at all. In addition to advising Sheikh Hamed Bin Isa Al Khalifa and his successors on financial and legal matters, he was in charge of the police and the law courts, involved in the setting up of schools and hospitals, overseeing improvements in the island’s infrastructure – such as roads, electrical installations, bridge building and harbour construction – as well as dealing with the nascent oil industry, RAF and naval visits, plus the endless round of social calls with Bahraini merchants, pearl fishers, local dignitaries, British officials, American missionaries and visiting clergy.

In spite of this workload – or perhaps because of it – he devoted time to reading a number of novels, both classic and contemporary. Writing in his diary late at night there was neither time nor space for extensive comments, but often he recorded his impressions in a brief sentence or two. The first book to be mentioned was Major Dane’s Garden (London: Hutchinsons, 1926) by Margery Perham, a romantic novel about a District Officer in Somaliland who tries to use his gardening experiments to improve agricultural practices for the locals. Belgrave had arrived on Bahrain on 31 March 1926 and three months later, on 17 June 1926, he wrote ‘Reading a very interesting book called “Major Danes Garden” about Somaliland, really extremely good, the best novel I’ve read for along while.’ Perhaps he saw something in the idealism of Major Dane that he hoped to emulate in his own work on Bahrain?

Next up was The Constant Nymph (London: Heinemann, 1924), by Margaret Kennedy. Set in the Austrian Tyrol in the 1920s, the novel follows the affairs of various members of an extended ‘Bohemian’ family, particularly young Teresa, or Tessa – the ‘nymph’ of the title – and her romantic fixation on composer Lewis Dodd, who shows more interest in Tessa’s cousin Florence. He probably started reading this straight after Major Dane’s Garden as on Saturday 24 July 1926, he noted: ‘Finished reading “The Constant Nymph” a very unusual book, I liked it.’

Unlike many of his contemporaries in diplomatic circles, Belgrave’s tastes at this time seemed to incline towards some of the more unusual and progressive authors on the literary scene. On 26 June 1927 he recorded that he had just read Crazy Pavements (London: Jonathan Cape, 1927) by Beverley Nichols – the ‘original Bright Young Thing’ according to Obsert Sitwell. This darkly satirical swipe at London socialites of the 1920s predated Waugh’s similar Vile Bodies by three years. Belgrave recorded ‘I liked it, though decidedly “modern”.’

Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point (London: Chatto & Windus, 1928) was another novel that mocked the elite social circles of the ‘Twenties, but in contrast to the gossipy tone of Crazy Pavements it was a much more a novel of ideas, in which Huxley used thinly-veiled portraits of figures such as Katherine Mansfield, D.H. Lawrence and John Middleton Murry to explore the complex interaction of various intellectual theories and philosophical questions. Heavy on ideas and thin on plot, it nonetheless intrigued Belgrave: ‘5 June 1929 Just finished reading Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley, one of the Tauchnitz books, quite one of the queerest, most improper and most amusing, in parts, book that I have read for a long time. I should like to read more of his.’ Tauchnitz were a German publisher who specialised in continental reprints of English literary works, Point Counter Point was published as Vols.4872 and 4873 in their library of British and American Authors: due to its length it required two volumes.

A slightly simpler read was Richard Hughes’s novel A High Wind in Jamaica (London: Chatto & Windus, 1929), which Belgrave finished on 14 June 1930 and ‘liked very much.’ Two months later, on 17 August 1930, his diary records: ‘Am reading Jane Austen again and very much liking it; I find several novels I had not read before.’ He seems to have developed an interest in Austen, and on 18 December 1931 he recounted how his wife Marjorie wore a dress that they had copied from a picture in one of Austen’s novels, along with a large bonnet, fan and hair locket as accessories.

Although the Regency world of Jane Austen was far removed from life in Bahrain, some of Belgrave’s reading clearly resonated with his current experience. Regarding Joseph Ackerley’s account of his appointment as personal secretary to the eccentric Maharajah of Chhatrapur –  Hindoo Holiday. An Indian Journal (London: Chatto & Windus, 1932) – he wrote in his diary for 23 September 1932: ‘rather improper but very amusing and in many ways not unlike this place.’ Similarly, with regard to Maurice Collis’s biography Siamese White (London: Faber & Faber, 1936) about Samuel White, a 17th century merchant trader from Bath who ended up as a mandarin of Siam. ‘A most interesting book,’ wrote Belgrave on 25 July 1942, ‘the sort I should like to write myself.’

Other novels that he read were clearly just for escapism and relaxation, although it is evident that he kept up to date with what was being published. On 15 April 1946 he wrote: ‘Read after lunch, an historical novel Forever Amber – very long & rather good. Some are scandalised by it but I can’t see why.’ Kathleen Winsor’s novel about a mistress of Charles II had been published in 1944 and she was then in the process of adapting it into a screenplay for the 1947 movie of the same name, which caused even more of a scandal than her book, earning the ire of Hollywood’s Hays Office.   Around the same time he was also working his way through some of Trollope’s ‘Barchester Chronicles’ including The Small House at Allinton (‘excellent reading’) and Framley Parsonage, before returning to more contemporary fiction such as Waugh’s Decline and Fall (20 February 1947). There was light relief in the form of Robert Hichens’ satire about decadent London during the ‘Naughty Nineties’ The Londoners, which he found  ‘a very funny book – one forgets that he ever wrote comic stories’ (2 June 1955).

Not all Belgrave’s personal reading was fiction, and his diary entries also records him enjoying works such as William Gaunt’s The Aesthetic Adventure  ‘an extremely amusing book…about the arty people of the 90s’ and Anthony Glyn’s biography of his grandmother, the novelist and screenwriter Elinor Glyn.

If anyone is seeking inspiration for reading choices for World Book Day, Belgrave’s diary could provide some ideas!

Cataloguing the Common Ground archive: ‘Second Nature’ and ‘Holding Your Ground’

During the first six months of the Common Ground archive cataloguing project, I examined and briefly described the material I found in each file within the archive to create a comprehensive box list. This new box list now provides me with a good overview of the contents of the archive, which – I hope! – will vastly facilitate the cataloguing process. Keen to finally get down to some proper cataloguing, I decided to tackle the archive material relating to two of Common Ground’s early projects: ‘Second Nature’ and ‘Holding Your Ground’.

EUL MS 416/LIB/1 – Books: ‘Second Nature’ (1984) and ‘Holding Your Ground (1987)

The ‘Second Nature’ project concerned the publication of a collection of essays and artwork. 42 writers and artists were invited by Common Ground to ‘express their feelings about Britain’s dwindling wild life and countryside’ (‘Second Nature’, 1984) and contribute to this anthology through prose, poetry or art. The book was edited by Richard Mabey with Sue Clifford and Angela King – the three founders of Common Ground – and published by Jonathan Cape in 1984. Three public seminars at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) took place in October and November 1984 to discuss the themes explored in the book. The artwork featured in ‘Second Nature was exhibited at the Newlyn Orion Gallery in Penzance in 1984, and subsequently travelled to other venues.

EUL MS 416/PRO/1/1/1 – Small cards with names of contributors, presumably used to plan the layout of ‘Second Nature’

One year after ‘Second Nature’ was published, Sue Clifford and Angela King co-authored and published a second book together: ‘Holding Your Ground: an action guide to local conservation’. It was first published by Maurice Temple Smith in 1985, and a revised edition was published by Wildwood House in 1987. The book provides information on how to care for your locality, reasons why local conservation is important, case studies of local initiatives, and advice on who to contact for help and support. The book includes a foreword by David Bellamy, artwork by Tony Foster and Robin Tanner, and photography by Chris Baines, Ian Anderson and Ron Frampton.

EUL MS 416/PRO/2/1/1 – Comb-bound typescript draft of ‘Holding Your Ground’ (1983)

These early projects highlight the two strands of Common Ground’s work which informed the projects that followed; firstly, collaborating with artists and writers to reflect on our relationship with nature, and secondly, encouraging people to take action in looking after their local environment. Using the arts to celebrate local distinctiveness, encourage people to emotionally engage with their surroundings, and consequently interest them in conservation at a local level would become the cornerstone of Common Ground’s work.

EUL MS 416/PRO/2/2/3 – File of research material relating to ‘Parish Initiatives’ for the ‘Holding Your Ground’ project

In addition, many of the relationships Common Ground forged with artists and writers at this very early stage would prove to be longlasting and influential. For example, the artist Andy Goldsworthy, who provided five photographs of his artwork for ‘Second Nature’, completed a residency on Hampstead Heath supported by Common Ground in the winter of 1985-1986, and would go on to work with Common Ground on various other projects, including ‘Trees, Woods and the Green Man’, ‘New Milestones’, and ‘Rhynes, Rivers and Running Brooks’. Other artists and writers who worked with Common Ground again after collaboration on these early projects include: Norman Ackroyd, Conrad Atkinson, John Fowles, David Nash, James Ravilious, and Tony Foster.

EUL MS 416/PRO/1/4 – Files relating to projects with the artist Andy Goldsworthy

Material in the ‘Second Nature’ section of the archive includes: correspondence with artists and writers; papers concerning the production of the book; papers relating to the seminars held at the ICA; papers concerning the exhibition of artists’ work; and several files of papers relating to Common Ground’s collaboration with artist Andy Goldsworthy, in particular: his residency on Hampstead Heath and exhibitions of his work. The ‘Holding Your Ground’ section of the archive comprises drafts of the book ‘Holding Your Ground’, book reviews, correspondence and research material. All of this material has now been catalogued and descriptions of the files and items are available to browse online via our archives catalogue.

Catalogue entries for ‘Second Nature’ (reference number: EUL MS 416/PRO/1) and ‘Holding Your Ground (reference number: EUL MS 416/PRO/2) on the Special Collections online archives catalogue

Having now completed the cataloguing of two relatively small sections of Common Ground’s project work in the archive, I’m giving myself a slightly bigger challenge to catalogue next: material relating to the Parish Maps project. The Parish Maps project was launched by Common Ground in 1987 to encourage people ‘to share and chart information about their locality as a first step to becoming involved in its care’ (Common Ground leaflet, 2000). The project output included two exhibitions, several publications, and thousands of maps created in various forms by individuals, groups, schools, councils, communities and organisations – so I will certainly have my work cut out!

Thanks for reading – until next time!

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

 

Why not start your exploration of the Common Ground archive via our online archives catalogue today?

Click here to browse the section ‘Second Nature’ via the online archives catalogue.

Click here to browse the section ‘Holding Your Ground’ via the online archives catalogue.

You can also find out more about the Common Ground archive cataloguing project by taking a look back at our previous blog posts.

The Ayubi Papers

The latest Middle East archival collection to be catalogued differs slightly from recent projects in that the papers relate to the life and career of an academic rather than a diplomat or journalist.

A portrait of Nazih Ayubi (1944-95) from the university archives. EUL UA/P/3g

Nazih Nassif Mikhail Ayubi (1944-95) was born on 22 December 1944 in Cairo and obtained a B.Sc. (1964) and M.Sc. (1968) in Political Science from Cairo University, where he was taught by Boutros Boutros-Ghali. He then came to England, studying for a Diploma in Public Administration at Manchester University (1970) followed by a D.Phil (Politics) at Oxford (1975). After returning to Cairo he worked as an assistant professor at the Institute of Public Administration and the National Institute for Management Development (1967-76), followed by a fellowship at the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, an independent research unit dedicated to regional and international affairs as well as Egyptian politics and society, with a particular emphasis on Arab-Israeli relations. Ayubi went on to hold posts at the American University in Cairo (AUC) as well as Cairo University, before accepting an appointment as Associate Professor at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1979. After four years in America, he came to the University of Exeter in 1983, where he held the post of Reader in Politics and subsequently Director of the Middle East Programme.

This was an exciting time for Middle East research at Exeter: the Centre for Arab Gulf Studies had been founded in 1979 and the university was already assuming major significance for the quality of its resources and scholarship. Under Ayubi’s guidance, the Middle East programme became one of the most successful graduate programmes in Europe, with a stream of undergraduates and doctoral students benefitting from his expertise. His research interests included Egyptian politics, political economy, international relations and the international politics of Islam.

Nazih Ayubi was an incredibly prolific writer. While cataloguing his papers, I began compiling what I hoped would be a comprehensive bibliography of his published work – a task that remains unfinished and will take a considerable amount of time, given the sheer number of articles, book chapters and conference papers that he published during his career.

Some of Ayubi’s writings on the topic of ‘political Islam’ (EUL MS 129/1/1/3)

The Ayubi Papers

Ayubi’s papers are catalogued in four main categories: academic papers, conference papers, correspondence and research material. The academic papers include different versions of some of his published work, including early drafts of articles and book chapters, working notes and annotated proofs. There are also administrative documents relating to his academic career, both in America and at Exeter.

The conference materials relate to the numerous conferences and symposia attended by Ayubi during the 1980s and 1990s in places such as Paris, Leiden, New York, Istanbul, Marrakech, Rabat and Cairo, and include official conference materials and ephemera as well as copies of papers presented by Ayubi and other participants. Between 1991 and 1992 Ayubi held a Jean Monnet Fellowship at the European Institute in Florence, and our archive contains records of his academic activities during this time, including seminars, reading groups and conferences.

Ayubi was a highly-respected scholar who was continually being invited to speak at international conferences and collaborate in major scholarly projects; the correspondence preserved in our archive reflects the extent of his international reputation and the affection with which he was held. The correspondents read like a Who’s Who of Middle Eastern scholarship, with names such as Malcolm Kerr, Louis Cantori, Ray Hinnebusch, Albert Hourani, Roger Owen, Bernard Schaffer, Richard Sklar, Leonard Binder, P.J. Vatikiotis, Gerald Caiden and Boutros Boutros Ghali. The letters typically deal with professional matters such as collaborating on books or taking part in conferences, or seeking job opportunities, but they are often warm and personal too, with correspondents exchanging news about family and children, expressing how much they are looking forward to meeting up or urging Ayubi to come and visit. These informal letters sometimes provide intriguing insights into events taking place in the Middle East, such as the political implications of academic appointments in Beirut or Cairo, and there are continual reminders of the thin veil separating politics from scholarship in the region.

Part of a letter from Malcolm Kerr to Ayubi (EUL MS 129/5/6) illustrating the difficulties in separating politics from academia. Kerr left Cairo in September 1982 when he was appointed President of the American University in Beirut, where he had been born and raised. He was assassinated by gunmen on campus in January 1984.

Ayubi’s research materials include a small fraction of some of the vast primary and secondary literature he gathered while writing his books. Anyone who has read Ayubi’s work will be aware of the extensive scope of his reading, which included official government records as well as Arab writers who were less well-known in the west. The Ayubi archive does not include the published books and periodicals that he gathered for research purposes – these form a separate donation to the library, some of which is still to be catalogued – but it does include a large mass of annotated material, such as photocopied documents and periodical literature, presscuttings and typescripts. Many of these have been grouped together into folders arranged by subject and contain notes by Ayubi, offering insights into his working methods as well as access to the sources he used in his research.

To give some idea of the extent of Ayubi’s work and the potential for using his papers for future research, I want to highlight three main themes:

Political Islam

The international significance of Ayubi’s work is indicated by the numerous languages into which his books were translated, including French, German, Italian and Japanese

In his Political Islam: religion and politics in the Arab World (London: Routledge, 1991) – which was written between 1988 and 1989 – Ayubi argued that, contrary to the claims of Islamists that the early political systems were shaped and formed by Islamic doctrine, historical analysis suggests the opposite: political regimes appropriated Islam for their own ends as a way of legitimising their rule. To counter Islamic fundamentalists who insist that they are trying to reinstate a golden age of Islam; Ayubi demonstrated persuasively that notions of Islam as a political religion are relatively new, and can only be traced back to the interwar period.

Ayubi’s thinking on this topic can be traced through various stages from papers in the archive, including his notes on ‘Islam and Democracy’ (EUL MS 129/1/1/3), early manuscript drafts for his articles on ‘Islamic State’ and ‘The Muslim Brotherhood’ (overview article), written for The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World (EUL MS 129/1/1/7), his annotated proofs for Political Islam: religion and politics in the Arab World (EUL MS 129/1/1/13), and various research notes he made on Islamic communities, the notion of أمة‎ (‘ummah’), the relationship between militant movements and the history of Islamic jurisprudence (EUL MS 129/1/2/2 and 1/2/4 and 1/2/7).

Ayubi would have had much to say about the Islamist resurgence that has taken place since his death, and his papers could provide an interesting perspective from which to undertake further lines of research.

Europe

EUL MS 129/4/2

Although much of Ayubi’s work focussed on the Middle East, he held a Jean Monnet Fellowship at the European Institute in Florence (1991-92) and devoted much thought to relations between Europe and its Arab neighbours. He edited the essay collection Distant neighbours: the political economy of relations between Europe and the Middle East (Ithaca, 1995),  from papers originally delivered at the European Institute in March 1993, contributing the opening chapter on ‘Farms, factories…and walls: which way for European/Middle Eastern Relations?’  He later took part in the 1995 ‘Euromed’ conference (EUL MS 129/3/21) that gave rise to the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. Such attempts to strengthen and articulate relationships between Europe and its neighbours in North Africa and the Middle East were in part a response to claims of a ‘clash of civilizations’ that had arisen in reaction to Islamist resurgence detailed above. The future and form of these relations remains acutely relevant, as debates over ‘Brexit’ and immigration from the Middle East into Europe have encouraged closer scrutiny of the identities and boundaries used to define these relationships. Researchers seeking to explore this topic could begin their work using some of the papers compiled by Ayubi during his European study fellowships (EUL MS 129/4), at Euromed and other related conferences (e.g. EUL MS 129/3/7).

The Arab State

Ayubi’s work was rooted in the close links between public administration and political theory and throughout his career he retained an interest in the workings of the civil service, the military and the bureaucratic systems that support the functioning of the state. In contrast to a well-established tradition, as expressed by Karl Wittfogel’s Oriental Despotism (1957) that insists that Middle Eastern states are strong while civil society is weak, Ayubi drew a nuanced distinction between ‘hard’ and ‘strong’ states. A ‘hard state’ is one that uses its powers – bureaucratic administration, surveillance, the military and police forces – to coerce and punish its citizens, because it is unable to achieve its objectives by using democratic persuasion, economic incentives and the flexibility that is characteristic of a truly ‘strong state’. By challenging the confusion – typical of a long strand of western analysis of the Arab world – between oppressive power and moral strength, Ayubi’s work opens up a fascinating debate about the potential for, and possible means of, future change in the region. It would be interesting to return to Ayubi’s arguments and reassess them in the light of the ‘Arab Spring’ and its aftermath. There is ample scope too for linking all three of the above themes – for example, in exploring the success of political Islamists in ‘state-building’ in Arab regions where the state has proved weak, or European difficulties in providing a coherent economic or political response to the power struggles between authoritarian states and a diverse array of democratic and Islamist challengers.

Nazih Ayubi’s sudden death from a heart attack at the age of 50 was a tragic loss, both for his family and colleagues as well as for the world of Middle East scholarship. The bequest of his papers, however, allows students and researchers access to the materials and processes that shaped his publications and will hopefully inspire others to engage with his writings and build upon his pioneering work. The online catalogue of Ayubi’s papers can be explored here.