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Center for Gulf Studies (CGS) Hosts Lecture by Dr. Ben Slot on "The Origins of Kuwait"

In collaboration with the Department of International Relations, the Center for Gulf Studies (CGS) at AUK facilitated a lecture by Dr. Ben J. Slot-an acclaimed historian and archivist-entitled "The Origins of Kuwait" which discussed the main findings of his book that contributes to the history of Kuwait through the use of European archives.

In his talk, Dr. Slot discussed the difficulty of finding records on Kuwait's history, revealing that he has actually searched all the Dutch national archives. His research sourced newspapers and documents, and he eventually compiled evidence in his book. According to evidence from European sources, Kuwait was a nation state before 1756, thus validating Kuwait's long-established legitimacy.

Tackling a widespread misconception, he addressed the myth of Kuwait beginning as a Portuguese fortress, which stems from maps that illustrated the results of Portuguese explorations in the region of Kuwait during the 1500's. However, there is no verified confirmation that the Portuguese ever landed in Kuwait. The Portuguese usually built on the seafront, hence going further inland would restrict their supplies.

Dr. Slot also highlighted the prominence of falsified historical documents, where he presented several cases, most notably the visit of a Dutch naval officer to Kuwait in 1870. The navy officer's report gave a very positive image of Kuwait, drawing it as a prosperous republic with happy people. Following this report, a map was published showing an independent "Republic of Kuwait".

In his own right, Sheikh Mubarak Al-Sabah, the seventh ruler of Kuwait, played a significant role in shaping Kuwait's origins. With the threat of colonialism spreading to Kuwait in the 19th century, he sought to establish several European connections.

Following the lecture, the audience were invited to engage in a lively discussion with Dr. Slot where they asked various questions regarding how to best detect bias within sources, particularly as history is written by the victor, and how to approach and analyze sources. In response, Dr. Slot stressed the importance of cross-document verification, saying, "I hoped that this talk would achieve the consciousness that there are many kinds of sources, and that one must always try to support information from one source with information from another."

In highlighting the significance of the talk, Dr. Shareefa Al-Adwani, the Acting Director of CGS, said, "It is very rare that students get to meet the author of their textbooks and history books. Yet, here is one of the most relevant books to the history of Kuwait and its politics, whereby students can directly interact with an author, scholar, and archivist that they have perhaps been reading from all throughout their college career. It's incredibly exciting for us."

Dr. Ben J. Slot, born in 1941 in the Netherlands, is a historian responsible for the archives of the Dutch East India Company in the General State Archives in The Hague. He is a prolific writer on the history of the Ottoman Empire, the history of the Gulf, and cartography. His publications include The Origins of Kuwait, The Arabs of the Gulf 1602-1784, and a biography of Sheikh Mubarak the Great, which was translated into Arabic. His edited book, Kuwait: The Growth of a Historic Identity, addresses historical, political, and social processes and interactions that led to the formation and the ultimate sovereignty of Kuwait.

The Center for Gulf Studies is a research center under the College of Arts and Sciences at the American University of Kuwait. The center aims to promote greater cultural understanding of and increased intellectual interest in the Gulf, by facilitating free and open academic discourse on a range of issues that both shape and challenge this critical region of the world. Their goal is to enable scholars as well as political and civil society actors both within and outside the region to contribute and add value to the burgeoning field of Gulf Studies. To this end, the center seeks to encourage, support, and cultivate interesting and original research on the Gulf, and to create an environment in which AUK students and faculty can interact and collaborate with researchers and activists from around the world in creative and engaging ways.

Dr. Ben J. Slot giving his lecture

During Dr. Ben's lecture at AUK

Audience member engaging in a discussion with Dr. Slot

Lecture attendees at AUK

Released by the Office of Public Affairs on the 5th March 2018

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