GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
First Name:
Sandhya Rao
Title of Paper:
The untold tale: Shifting identities in the museums of Oman
Paper Proposal Text :
This paper explores the role of museums as being at once the projectors of history, however interpreted, and to be themselves part of a historical process whereby the choices made by the institution and, through it the state, are privileged over more common perceptions of society, culture and a shared sense of the past. Using Benedict Anderson's notion of imagined communities, this study focusses on the various museums in Oman as well as the upcoming National museum in order to examine the diverse ways in which history is seen to be interpreted by the nation state as a way of reflecting the national consciousness. The paper will look into what has gone into the narration of Omani history, but more importantly, what has not, for clearly, that which has been marginalized is part of a master narrative. This is particularly true of archives in the possession of the Indian community in Muscat city which point to a historical contribution to the emergence of the modern state. The extent to which this historical narrative is accommodated into the larger tale of the growth of the nation is an indication of the way in which Oman would like to reflect upon itself as well as the way in which it would like to be reflected upon by others.
This research will introduce the various museums in Muscat city to reveal the impetus for a national identity and dwell into the complex layers in which this identity reveals itself. Based on sample interviews with a cross section of visitors, national, expatriate as well as tourists, the paper will examine the extent to which the national quest for material and non-material forms of belonging have been successfully incorporated in these national projects. A brief survey of the museums in Oman suggest that, while the projects themselves had been introduced as early as 1974, the early museums focused on the non-human aspect of the nation, particularly taking advantage of the millennial history of the land in terms of rock formations, prehistoric skeletons of fish and animals as well as coral reefs. Subsequently, focus appears to have shifted into a more self-conscious national narratives which privileged the military and imperialistic might of the Omani kingdom as it embraced Zanzibar and Baluchistan. At this time, in the 1980s and 1990s, the museums showed scattered interest in acquiring and retaining manuscripts from international sources. For a number of reasons, most of which are representative of the wider Gulf region, the new millennium added impetus on the part of the nation to re-define itself in terms of its past in multiple ways which do not always play to the national narrative. This paper will attempt to address the extent to which the citizens find museums an authoritative space for assertions of history and identity, the way in which the non-citizens but long-time residents such as the Indian community perceive the attempts at nation building and the manner in which this narrative appears to a casual visitor. The paper will illustrate how, if museums can change perceptions, they are themselves subject to constant change in-keeping with changing social and political concerns.
Keywords: museums in Oman, national identity, Indian diaspora, imagined communities