THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

17 May 2016

Online Historical Resources for the Study of the Modern History of Bahrain and the Persian Gulf

The Qatar Digital Library (QDL), launched by the British Library-Qatar Foundation Partnership in October 2014, contains a huge – and growing – number of British colonial documents related to the history of the Persian Gulf and broader Middle East from the 18th to 20th Century, all of which are now freely available to search and download. This post will introduce two series of documents on the QDL that are useful for those interested in the history of Bahrain and the surrounding region in the first half of the twentieth century; namely the Intelligence Summaries of the British Political Agency in Bahrain and the Government of Bahrain’s Annual Administrative Reports.

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Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1361 (Feb. 1942 - Jan. 1943). British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/7
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Bahrain Intelligence Summaries (1934-1949)

These summaries consist of fortnightly intelligence reports that were composed by the British Political Agent in Bahrain and distributed to a number of British officials in London, India and throughout the Middle East. They were subsequently grouped by year and filed in the archive of the Political Agency. These previously confidential records constitute a remarkable historical resource regarding a fascinating time in Bahrain’s history. Throughout this period, Bahrain was at the centre of Britain’s Informal Empire in the Gulf and Charles Belgrave, the British adviser of the country’s rulers, was a hugely influential figure in the country. From the mid-1930s onwards, Bahrain’s oil industry began to rapidly develop, leading to substantial changes in Bahraini society and this transformation is documented in detail in these reports. They are also a useful resource concerning the history of the Persian Gulf region more broadly, since events in Kuwait, Qatar, the Trucial Coast (modern-day UAE), Oman, Saudi Arabia and occasionally Iraq and Iran, are all mentioned too.
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Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1358 (February 1939 - February 1940). British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/4
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The summaries constitute an important historical record related to a wide range of topics including slave trafficking and smuggling, the development of the oil industry, labour movements, international shipping and trade, British colonial history, the Gulf’s relationship with the Arab World (notably the Palestinian cause), power struggles between – and within – the region’s ruling families, the impact of the Second World War and the local reaction to international events (such as the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and the partition of Palestine). The records also contain details of every visit made to Bahrain by British and foreign notables during this period, as well as weather and meteorological data.

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Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1357 (March 1938 - February 1939). British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/3
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Alongside serious intelligence reporting related to political, military and economic developments in the region, the summaries also contain dozens of surreal and humorous vignettes concerning everyday life in Bahrain, such as the wide-spread popularity of a restaurant that served alcoholic cider, as well as several stories regarding the misdemeanours of members of Bahrain’s ruling family. A number of tragic tales are also mentioned in the reports including the death of a Bahraini fisherman after he was impaled by a sword fish and the drowning of forty pilgrims in the so-called ‘Nebi Saleh Tragedy’.


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Government of Bahrain Administrative Report for the Years 1926-1937. British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750
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Changes in the social and cultural life of the region are also documented in the summaries. Incidents recorded include a football match between a Bahraini team and a team of Sudanese and Italian ARAMCO workers in Saudi Arabia that had to be abandoned after members of the Bahraini team attacked the referee, and the first boxing tournament ever held by a Bahraini sporting club. The growing popularity of cinema in the country is also frequently mentioned.

The summaries can be accessed at the following links: 1934, 1935-37, 1938-40, 1941-42, 1943-44, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949


Government of Bahrain Annual Administrative Reports (1926-1944)

The Government of Bahrain’s Annual Reports that were compiled by the aforementioned Charles Belgrave from another significant historical resource for the study of the modern history of Bahrain. These reports document the significant expansion in government services that occurred during this period and contain detailed information related to Bahrain’s finances, oil industry, education, health and judicial systems, municipal projects, police force, pearl diving industry and several other topics.
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Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1358 (February 1939 - February 1940)
. British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/4
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The reports are illustrated throughout including photographs that depict the visits of dignitaries such as Ibn Sa’ud, the King of Saudi Arabia and show the numerous municipal buildings that were constructed during a period of frenetic expansion including hospitals, law courts and schools. They also contain a number of tables, graphs and other statistical information.

A detailed administrative report for the years 1926-1937 can be found here and individual annual reports (that use the Islamic hijri calendar) at the following links: 1348-49 (June 1929 – May 1930), 1350 (May 1931 – May 1932), 1351 (May 1932 – April 1933), 1356 (March 1937 - February 1938), 1357 (March 1938 - February 1939), 1358 (February 1939 - February 1940), 1359 (February 1940 - February 1941), 1360 (January 1941 - February 1942), 1361 (February 1942 - January 1943), 1362 (January 1943 - December 1943), 1363 (January 1944 - December 1944)

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Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1356 (March 1937 - February 1938). British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/2  noc

The two series profiled in this article are merely an example of the wealth of rich archival resources now available on the QDL. Among a vast array of other materials the site also now holds copies of the Annual Administrative Reports of the Persian Gulf Political Residency and the Muscat Political Agency from 1873 until 1947 (1873-74, 1874-75, 1875-76, 1876-77, 1877-78, 1878-79, 1879-1880, 1880-81, 1881-82, 1882-83, 1883-84, 1884-85, 1885-86, 1886-87, 1887-88, 1888-89, 1889-90, 1890-91, 1891-92, 1892-93, 1893-94 1894-95, 1895-96, 1896-97, 1897-98, 1898-99, 1899-1900, 1900-01, 1901-02, 1902-03, 1903-04, 1904-05, 1905-10, 1911-14, 1915-19, 1920-24, 1925-30, 1931-35 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939-44, 1945-46, 1947) and the Annual Administration Reports of the Political Agency in Bahrain from 1921 until 1949 (1921-1930, 1931-34, 1935-39, 1940-43, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949).

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Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1361 (February 1942 - January 1943)
. British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/7  noc

Together, all of these documents form an invaluable historical resource, both for researchers who were previously unable to visit the British Library in London and for students keen to gain experience using primary documents. New material is regularly uploaded to the QDL site and will continue to be added until at least the end of 2018.


Louis Allday, Gulf History/Arabic Language Specialist
@Louis_Allday
 ccownwork