THE BLOG

Globalising History and Culture - Why Britain's Cultural Institutions Should Embrace Their Ties Abroad

22/05/2013 16:00 BST | Updated 21/07/2013 10:12 BST

The role of great British institutions is currently under the microscope following the Culture Secretary's promise recently to 'fight their corner' when it comes to public funding. Maria Miller issued a rallying call to the cultural sector, referencing the significant and profitable impact it has on the UK economy and the success it heralds abroad.

Indeed, the relationships being forged between UK cultural institutions and overseas partners symbolise the global opportunities of sharing culture and history. Britain's libraries, galleries and museums have long been joining forces with international partners to promote culture and education - and in the process build important bridges between nations outside of traditional diplomatic channels.

One relevant and topical example of this is the Qatar-UK 2013 Year of Culture, which is being coordinated by the British Council and the Qatar Museums Authority. As well as building new relationships and supporting existing partnerships in education, sport and science, the year will promote an awareness and appreciation of each country's culture, achievements and heritage.

Highly relevant to this celebration is the British Library-Qatar Foundation Partnership, which aims to digitise over half a million pieces of archived material relating to the history and culture of the Gulf. We are digitising records, maps, letters, photographs, sound recordings and medieval manuscripts to enhance people's knowledge of the Gulf region. The content will be available in English and Arabic, and all of it online for free.

'Knowledge partnerships' such as these that cross national borders reap valuable rewards in building stronger cultural ties and in opening up new resources for research and innovation. This is, of course, fantastic news in and of itself. However, the UK Government is right to recognise how these partnerships also shape the reputation of Britain abroad and pave the way for harder edged commercial gain. Qatar's business interests in the UK, for example, have grown exponentially in recent years, in energy and property to name but two.

Institutions like the British Library make a vital contribution to showing the world Britain's appeal as a place to study, work and invest. It is welcome to hear the Government acknowledge this subtle but valuable role that culture and education play in international relations.