Highlights from Arabia - RCMC

Highlights from Arabia in the Leiden Collections

Highlights from Arabia

The project ‘Highlights from Arabia in the Leiden Collections’ focuses on the sizable late nineteenth and early-twentieth-century collections on Western Arabia in Museum Volkenkunde and the University Library Leiden.

Research will benefit from the obvious cultural and historical relations between the two collections, not in the least as both were collected by the same individuals: Dutch scholars (such as the Leiden Islam scholar Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje, 1857-1936) and various Dutch consuls who were responsible for monitoring the journeys of pilgrims from and to Indonesia sent objects from Mecca, Medina and Jeddah to Leiden, where they eventually ended up in the collections of the university and the museum. The two diverse collections consist of manuscripts, printed books and posters, photographs and documents (mostly in the University Library’s collections) and a wide variety of objects of everyday use, mostly secular, some religious, such as dress, furniture, tableware, musical instruments and Hajj souvenirs from the Museum Volkenkunde collection. 

These objects reflect the importance of the Holy Cities of Islam and their significance for sacred geography, with the Ka’ba in Mecca serving as the direction of prayer to all Muslims worldwide and Mecca as the place of pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of Islam. These results are complemented with insights gained from studying the secular sources highlighting other aspects of life, such as history, culture, art, and social and family life in Mecca and Jeddah at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century. By combining objects from these collections, such as small toys in the shape of a camel-rider, a contemporary photograph of children playing in the streets of Jeddah and information gained from the literary sources the project aims to provide a wider picture of late-nineteenth-century West-Arabian society.

The research was conducted by Dr. Luit Mols (Curator for the Middle East, West and Central Asia at Museum Volkenkunde, Leiden and Dr. Arnoud Vrolijk (Curator of Oriental Manuscripts and Rare Books at Leiden University) from 2015 to 2017.