Mariam and I met at a 2014 Gulf Research Meeting workshop at the University of Cambridge on representations of national identity in the Gulf region. The contributions to this workshop, including mine (“We’re All Qataris Here”), were published in a book, Representing the Nation, edited by Mariam and two others.
It was during this time together in Cambridge, UK, when several of the workshop participants hatched an idea to put together a grant application to study the upcoming National Museum of Qatar, which was (then) set to open in 2016. We did receive this grant, “National Museums and the Public Imagination,” and this project turned into an incredible opportunity for me to study the public expectations and responses to the museum with experts in Qatari history and culture, including Mariam.
Once the museum finally opened in March 2019, Mariam and I enjoyed visiting the exhibits together and seeing how our previous research and speculation matched up to reality. Luckily for us, our research was largely correct! 🙂 Our biggest finding is that the new National Museum of Qatar avoids all use of terminology that separates Qataris into different historical and cultural backgrounds, like “Bedouin.” Rather, the museum emphasizes the interconnectedness of Qatari history and culture through a narrative of national unity. For example, in the picture below, the stairway displays photographs of Bedouin weaving patterns, interspersed with gold jewelry and stone carvings representative of settled urban communities on the coast. This is a big difference from the original National Museum (which Mariam studied in her PhD research), which clearly displayed, in separate exhibits, the different historical lifestyles of Qataris.
Mariam and I published an article together in the Journal of Arabian Studies, entitled “Nationalism and Identity in Qatar after 2017: The Narrative of the New National Museum.” Our article is open-access, which means everyone can click on the link and read it, free of charge! In the article, we include original photographs of various museum exhibits as well as quotes from many interviews of Qatari visitors to the museum. I truly enjoyed working with Mariam on this project and learning from her deep knowledge of Qatari history and cultural backgrounds.