Displaying the nation: The role of museums in the expression of national identity in the Sultanate of Oman

Al-Raee, Arooj (2023). Displaying the nation: The role of museums in the expression of national identity in the Sultanate of Oman. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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Despite its long history, since the accession of Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said in 1970, Oman has been active in nation building and the shaping of national identity. This thesis addresses the role of both public and private museums in the construction of the national identity of Oman. My research focused on six museums, but also drew on further examples from across the State, and sought to better understand how, through their collections, their architecture and physical presence, and their institutional roles in Omani civil society, they contribute to the representation of a national narrative. No previous studies have focused on the museums of Oman in this way. Through my examination of the presentation and narratives of museum collections and objects, and with interviews with museum directors, curators, cultural commentators and public users, I sought to explore the ways in which the museums assist in the production, representation and maintenance of the Omani identity.
Both public and private museums draw upon the notion of ‘ancient’ Oman to anchor its identity in historical continuity and focus on objects within their collections that seek to distinguish Oman from other States in the Gulf region. Museum narratives provide little conceptual space for either historical or contemporary contestation and debate. Unlike the debates of revisionism and decolonialisation taking place in Euro-American museums, there is little in Oman’s museums that challenge the sense of permanence and stability. Oman’s own colonial past is presented as relatively unproblematic and a foundational feature of an open, cosmopolitan society.
The target audiences for the museums of Oman are chiefly domestic and every aspect from their collections and interpretation, the architecture and siting of the buildings, to their role in supporting and showcasing archaeology, is directed to communicating the centrality of the nation. The national narrative is orchestrated through the governance of Oman’s museums and a top-down and carefully controlled system of planning, management and funding that emerged with, and reflected views of, the late Sultan and the Al-Said Dynasty. Even the private museums have sought to court the patronage of the Sultan and the State. The museums of Oman symbolise, to a large extent, the political and moderate religious views of the long rule of Sultan Qaboos, but also his position as the moderniser of the country. From the perspectives of the museum managers and the local communities they mainly serve, the museums fit into a generally unproblematic discourse that celebrates the modernity and stability of the nation through its royal lineage.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of History and Cultures/ Ironbridge International Institute of Cultural Heritage
Funders: Other
Other Funders: Ministry of Higher Education Oman
Subjects: A General Works > AM Museums (General). Collectors and collecting (General)
URI: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/13408


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