I love history and used to spend most of my time reading a lot of history books in the university library (instead of doing revision), now mainly through articles from Internet, or newspapers and magazines as well as TV channels.
It is one of my dreams to travel to these historical places but of course I can't afford this extravaganxa which is why Travel, National Geoghraphy and History channels are the best venues to 'be there'. Perhaps, someday I will be able to realise this dream...inshaAllah.
If you think that history is dull, here’s some very bad news
It naturally pains me to say this as an anthropologist and historian, but many people find history dull. Very few – probably well under half the population, I would guess – will take the time to sit, read and analyse the past. And only those who are really enthusiastic will take the time to read long works, plough through weighty tomes, and form a realistic picture in their minds of the people and events that have shaped their world.
So in looking back at our past, there is a chance that non-historians may not fully understand what really happened. The lack of visual aids and photographs is a particular obstacle preventing many people taking an interest in – and gaining an understanding of – their history. Many past events need thorough explanation, and without visual aids, that can be difficult. In a rapidly changing and developing nation such as ours, there is a great need to find an effective link between the present and the past in order for the young generation to fully understand and connect with their parents and grandparents and, indeed, their own history. In a visual age, the only way to do this is through the medium of what used to be called “the moving image”, whether that be television, film, video or digital.
Whatever name it goes by, film has always been a very good tool for sparking people’s imaginations and presenting them with easily understood information. Film also develops our visual appreciation, giving us the chance to appreciate fully the beauty that lies around us. From an historical perspective, it also gives us the chance to actually view the past, showing us how things used to be and what we used to have. Film also reveals that the people of 40 or 50 years ago were very little different from us today – even if they do seem to exist only in black and white.
Which is all to explain why I believe that Abu Dhabi Television’s step in restoring and digitally archiving some 16,000 hours of film showing how life used to be here from the 1950s to the 1980s, is one of the greatest acts of historical significance carried out by any network company. When the film is fully archived and restored, the colour corrected and background scratchiness removed, it will give modern viewers an amazing insight into their country of half a century or so ago.
Today’s younger generation, who have only known cities and skyscrapers, highways and four-wheel drives, will be shown the beauties of the Emirates of the past. There is film of pearl fishermen at work, laden camels traversing the desert, bustling markets – and the tiny town of Abu Dhabi. There is also, thankfully, extensive footage of the late Sheikh Zayed to inspire generations anew.In a country such as the UAE, which until relatively recently relied more on oral traditions for passing on its knowledge of history, it is difficult to stress sufficiently how important this archive will be in developing an awareness of the past. We have only a small number of written historical documents and so we have to be meticulous in preserving everything we can – as well as constantly seeking new ways to encourage people to connect with what we have.
This film archive marks a major step towards the improvement of historical libraries in the Emirates as well as demonstrating the arrival of the latest technologies. At the moment “a technical infrastructure” is being developed before the digitalisation process can begin. That should take until the end of the year, and then the transfer of all the film to digital archive should take up to another year.
Once completed, the people of the UAE will have a fantastic resource, one that gives them an easy and enjoyable access to the nation’s history and their past. It will also give television and cinema producers the means to produce films for both education and entertainment that look back into history. Thanks to technology – and, of course, the money and commitment of the television stations – history should never again be considered as dull. I personally can’t wait until we start to see some of the restored footage, or the documentaries that should follow later retelling the stories and the history of the people of the UAE. But the bad news for anyone who is convinced that history is not for them is that they will quickly have to change their minds.
Dr Salem Humaid is an Emirati writer and researcher in cultural and anthropological studies based in Dubai