THE BLOG

Connecting People to Their Past

13/03/2014 10:29 GMT | Updated 12/05/2014 10:59 BST

People are increasingly interested in exploring their roots: where they come from, stories from their family history, who they are related to, what their place in the world is.

But would you know how to research your past, if you wanted to? Would you know where to turn online, other than Google, or an online genealogy website?

I'm sure many would think of turning to a Library, but the physical restrictions of the collections being under lock and key mean you can never be sure you'll find what you're looking for.

Connecting people to their past is something technology can help to overcome. Having recently returned from a trip to the Qatar National Library, it is clear that the process of digitising the world's most significant archival collections is a crucial component of this broader aim.

In developing our own online portal on the history of science in the Arabic-speaking world, and the modern history of the Gulf, we are beginning to appreciate how research and academic communities will be able to completely redefine their studies of this region.

Perhaps even more exciting than this are the opportunities the portal will open up for people in Qatar and the Gulf to explore their history. For the first time they will be able to access a wealth of information about their heritage for free, with contextual support so they can see how their past is linked to the present, and in their local language.

Those links between past and present are what makes researching your past tangibly exciting.

For instance, we are digitising multiple manuscripts about British colonial history from centuries gone by but at the same time we are carrying out field work into modern day Qatar music with our audio specialist making regular trips to the region to meet with musicians in various local communities.

We're also digitising century-old maps and geo-referencing them so that they can be plotted against present day maps on Google. This opens up incredible opportunities for the user when seeing this portal for the first time and being able to instantly see the contrasts between the old and modern elements of the region.

This is an incredibly important and exciting time for anyone interested in historical research and our connections as humans on this tiny planet. The ramifications of being able to access this material will be significant for academics, researchers, Qatari communities and even interested parties here in Britain. Exciting times.