The history of any civilization is an important factor in shaping its future; our past does not only shape our identity but forms the foundation for our subsequent growth and development. Much has been said about this field, such as: (If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday)3 and (the nation that preserves its history preserves itself)4. Let us have a look at one of Qatar’s female historians that contributed to the consolidation of Qatar’s history. So, who is Sheikha Dr. Haya Ali Jassim Al-Thani?
With regards to my academic life, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Qatar University and then studied Art History at King Saud University in Riyadh. I considered History to be a difficult major as I had to write a graduate thesis, in addition to taking postgraduate courses on different historical eras. As history students, our classes were based on different time periods ranging from the Stone Age to modern and contemporary history. My focus was initially based on modern history but following the advice of one of my professors regarding the shortage of archaeologists in Qatar, I decided to shift my concentration to archeology. After that, I pursued a Ph.D. from the institute of Archaeology at the University of London. I mostly studied the beginning of civilizations and then specialized –in the history of Gulf in the Bronze Age – also referred to within the field as the beginning of human history. The Bronze Age (3000 BC –1200 BC) of the Gulf occurred in Dilmun, which extended from Kuwait to Bahrain and Qatar, as part of this civilization, Qatar served as a trade intermediary for both goods and ideas. Many artifacts that document the relationship between Qatar and Mesopotamia have been found, including Ubaid (Neolithic) and Dilmun (Bronze age) pottery. I was extremely intrigued by this subject, so I decided to study and write my thesis on the Dilmun seals – engravings, motifs that reflect the dynamics of local social life, an aspect of the Gulf that has remained unchanged for thousands of years. This thesis was the impetus for my decision to shift from anthropology to archeology.
Have you always known you wanted to study history?
I think that history in general is capable of capturing the interest of any human being. History is an intriguing subject to human civilization in general; it is not circumscribed to Arabs or Westerners, but to the overall human civilization. Many people around the world are fond of reading historical stories and accounts, in particular those that have significant meanings to their lives. I believe that it is important to teach our children the history. When a child learns about history they will be able to succeed in all subjects regardless of their academic inclinations. That is why I like to instill the love of history and the love of knowledge in our children.
How was the transition from a Phd student to joining the workforce like as an archeologist?
After getting my PhD I returned to Qatar University and developed a curriculum on archaeological history in the Gulf, with the aim of focusing on the civilizations that were established in the region and their unique humanitarian contributions. Fortunately, the curriculum was approved and is now taught at Qatar University. After that, I heard about the National Museum of Qatar, which lacked Qatari specialists who are especially familiar with Qatar’s history. There is no doubt that social life in Qatar is unique. Unlike many other countries and civilizations, we did not have access to large agrarian lands; instead our duality lives were based on land and sea-based activities. For example, we benefited from animal milk, meat and skins, also living near a famous coast of pearl beds, people dive for pearling engaged in trade, fishing and other sea activities. For this reason, I considered my transition to Qatar Museums a national duty. Despite this, I did not leave Qatar University; I believe that it is important to have a link between a country’s academic institutions and its museums: both are important constituents of the academic research process.
Have you experienced any challenges in your career?
Yes, I experienced some challenges during the beginning of my initial study abroad experience, but thankfully everything went by with a positive note. Throughout these challenges I have learned not to rush and to believe in what Allah has decreed for us: “Man does not attain all his heart’s desires for the winds do not blow as the vessels wish”. We are always looking to getting the best out of every situation and are disappointed when that is not the case. Instead, we should focus on the positives of whatever we have and try to build on that. Most of the challenges that I face now revolve around my desire to apply what I’ve learnt into the betterment of my community. I have participated in the development of the local academic curriculum through a committee formed by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education that aimed to give professionals and specialists the opportunity to contribute to Qatar’s education, but unfortunately the committee did not last for long.
What is your advice for women in Qatar?
I advise them to seek out the areas that they are interested in and are passionate about. I also advise them to read thoroughly and deeply about them in order to be successful and innovative in them. As for the nature of archaeological history in Qatar, the field lacks any mark of continuity. In order to obtain valuable results from any archaeological site its many layers must be uncovered first. Accordingly, the site must be examined for a minimum of five years. Unfortunately, most archaeological studies in Qatar do not last for more than a year or two and thereby miss out on a lot of useful opportunities. So, I hope that the new generation will pay more attention to the depth and importance of archaeological sites in Qatar.
- Interview written by Fatima AL Naimi.
- Interview was edited to improve readability and flow.