250,000 pages of Palestinian history digitized and accessible for all

The largest documented archive of Jerusalem’s history in the Arab Union Catalog is now available through the work led by the King Abdul Aziz Public Library (KAPL). In cooperation with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), KAPL has helped to gather 820 records of the Jerusalem Shariah Court, each record containing between 150 to 500 pages, to form the database of the Palestinian libraries in the Arab Union Catalog.

The archive, which amounts to more than 250,000 pages in books, maps and manuscripts, covers Jerusalem’s history since 1528 and is available at the UNRWA Libraries Network. KAPL, through the Arab Union Catalog, provided the technical capabilities to the information specialists of the education program, setting up the network to benefit libraries and Arab and Islamic culture.

Arab and Islamic heritage are the main pillars of KAPL’s work. On Palestine, the library has a large database of books, documents and maps. It has published a large illustrated volume entitled “Al-Aqsa,” which presents holy sites, heritage sites and the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosques. It also includes a large collection of rare documents and photographs.
Historical images of societies are part of their heritage and the global community. They tell of a people’s story and achievements, their suffering and loss, and serve as a vital element of communal identity.

Speaking about the importance of heritage conservation, Majed Al-Ahdal, an avid supporter of documenting antiquities, told Arab News that “documentation, in principle, is a manifestation of humanity and civilization; it’s a human condition that expresses the life of the individual and his or her deep desire for immortality.”

Today, few would disagree with the importance of documentation as a means of preserving the physical and intangible heritage. Through its various cultural projects, KAPL has documented Arab intellectual creativity, amassing a collection of more than 3 million books, journals, documents, manuscripts and rare photographs.

The digitizing of the archives will preserve and enrich Arab and Islamic culture and its sources. “Documentation today is a means of surviving the historical and identity erosion of any one human being,” said Al-Ahdal.

Hundreds of photographs have been found of the old city of Jerusalem, which are an important form of documentation and can play a role in conservation efforts.

“It is a powerful tool on which many engineering and artistic applications can be built. It is one of the most important ways in which physical heritage can be remodeled in the event of damage or destruction caused by natural disasters or the devastation caused by human conflict, with the assistance of 3D modeling software and other engineering applications.”

He said that photography can offer a reliable record of buildings, decorations, people’s costumes, society’s customs, and colors that can be difficult to describe and document in other ways.

“Promoting historical written and oral blogs with visual documents helps to get more precise view of our Arab and Islamic history.”

In 2009, the UNRWA archive was inscribed by UNESCO in the Memory of the World Register for collecting a rich audiovisual archive of film and photography that contains more than 10,000 prints, 85,000 slides and more than 70 films on the life and history of the Palestinian people.
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