More than half a million pages of historic documents detailing Arabic history and culture are to be made available online for the first time, as part of the British Library’s plans to make its content more accessible.
Among the works is J.G. Lorimer’s Gazetter, considered by many to be one of the most important sources on the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia, which was originally compiled in the early 20th century as a guide for British policymakers in the Middle East.
The 8.7 million pound ($14 million) project will feature more than half a million documents from the East India Company and India Office as well as 25,000 pages of medieval Arabic manuscripts depicting the Arab world’s science and medicine.
These materials could previously only be viewed by visiting the British Library’s Reading Rooms in London.
The partnership between the British Library and the Qatar Foundation was announced Wednesday and is aimed at expanding people’s understanding of the history of the Middle East, and the region’s relationship with Britain and the rest of the world.
“This is an opportunity for us to really make all these manuscripts available online, to describe the information ... and make it accessible to a wider public,” the British Library Curator of Middle Eastern Studies Colin Baker said.
The three-year project will involve various stages, which include photographing each item, enhancing catalogue records in English and Arabic as well as adding the geographical origins for further research use.
The records will be fully available online and free for the public to use.
British Library director Oliver Urquhart Irvine said the plans to digitize the works are part of an attempt to put the entire collection online. “That would take a very long time. But this is part of a plan of the library to do that.”
The British Library’s collection includes more than 150 million items such as the Magna Carta and The Beatles’ manuscripts.