Over more than five decades, Dr. Clinton Bailey has researched the deserts of Sinai and the Negev, establishing himself as a world-renowned expert on the Bedouin, Arabic-speaking nomads whose ancient culture survived largely unchanged for thousands of years.
The Clinton Bailey Archive of Bedouin Culture is now coming to the National Library of Israel. The archive includes one-of-a-kind treasures, including approximately 350 hours of interviews and recordings from Dr. Bailey’s research, as well as hundreds of images, slides and video clips documenting Bedouin tribal culture over the past half-century.
Dr. Bailey collected these materials immediately before his elderly Bedouin interlocutors passed away, taking their knowledge and memories with them. The archive, therefore, presents invaluable authentic primary-source materials from the last generation of elderly Bedouin who grew to maturity in the pre-modern period of Bedouin culture.
These materials will not be found in the future. They are a treasure of orally transmitted ancient culture now irreplaceable, and not available via the younger generations of Bedouin who grew up exposed to modernity.
According to Dr. Raquel Ukeles, Head of Collections at the National Library of Israel, “The irreplaceable materials in the archive will serve members of the Bedouin community interested in learning about their past, as well as scholars in Israel and abroad for generations to come. Safeguarding and opening access to these materials is central to the mission and mandate of the National Library of Israel, as we work diligently to preserve the treasures of all of Israel’s communities and share them with diverse audiences locally and internationally.”
The materials cover a range of facets of ancient Bedouin tribal cultures, making their preservation that much more significant. The subjects recorded include traditional poems; legal trials; oral traditions and histories; information about economic life, social organization, values, laws, religious practices, poetic creativity, knowledge of the environment, and more.
The archive presents a remarkable asset reflecting the singular mission of the National Library, an open and inclusive institution dedicated to preserving diverse expressions of cultural heritage and encouraging engagement with them by audiences in Israel and around the world.
The materials will be made freely accessible online through a comprehensive process that will include:
- Transcribing all audio materials to make them searchable and easily accessible
- Comprehensively describing and cataloging their contents in Arabic and English, including explanations of specific vocabulary and customs encountered in the recordings, many of which are not familiar to modern scholars
- Converting audio materials from analog to digital, optimizing sound quality, and undertaking quality assurance measures
- Opening full digital access to the materials via a dedicated online portal in three languages (English, Arabic, Hebrew) and the National Library of Israel’s catalog
Preserving and opening access to the Clinton Bailey Archive of Bedouin Culture is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Charles H. Revson Foundation, Marcie Polier Swartz/Grantors Foundation, and other donors.