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Session R4748 (Conducting Archival Research in MENA: Current Challenges, Creative Solutions), 2017
I will discuss the current challenges and opportunities facing researchers in the Arab Gulf states – Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman - based in part on my own experience conducting archival research and doing fieldwork in the United Arab Emirates from 2014 to 2016. Broadly speaking, the opportunities for research in the Gulf states are expanding, thanks to the opening of branch campuses of American universities, increased local attention to narratives of heritage and history, and the (relatively) stable political situation in most Gulf states. An increasing number of private, business, and newspaper archives have become available both within the Gulf states and elsewhere, and a positive and collegial climate among the research community contributes to a general sense of optimism.

On the other hand, restrictions on freedom of expression, state surveillance, strict visa regulations, and limitations on access to some state archives present ongoing challenges to Gulf researchers. This is particularly the case for those conducting fieldwork on expatriate laborers or on matters related to state security, foreign policy, and issues understood as explicitly “political.” Declining oil prices have cut into financial support for conference travel and research at Gulf universities. However, I will share strategies for working around these restrictions, including relying on a variety of archives not located in the Gulf states themselves, as well as alternative, publically-available sources such as the Gulf-based press. Furthermore, there are many topics – on infrastructure, heritage, education, and in urban studies, to name but a few – that are promising avenues of research generally not subject to state controls. Finally, I will discuss variations between the Gulf states in terms of research climate and funding opportunities.