Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
I have always had a passion for history and knew that I would study it here at St. Lawrence. It wasn’t until my sophomore year, however, that I found my specialization: the Middle East. After taking Dr. Eissenstat’s “Introduction to the Islamic World: 600-1500,” I started exploring this vast, new world. I began Arabic, and in the spring of my junior year I went abroad to Jordan. With a grant from the History Department, I stayed in Jerusalem for two weeks to do archival research in the Central Zionist Archives. I went there with the intent to discover the topic of my Honors project. There I stumbled upon the world of Amir Abdul Aziz, or Ibn Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia. While I had a compelling topic, I did not have enough information to write my senior thesis.
With guidance from my advisors and the professors in the History Department, as well as assistance from the generous Sol Feinstone International Study Prize, I spent a week in London. At the British National Archives I continued my research on Saudi Arabia and its early history. In the months before I went, I looked through the National Archives’ website to get an idea of what documents I could use as well as how the archives worked. Though I’d been in archives before, each one is different in its procedures and availability. The National Archives was the most efficient and extensive archive I’ve ever been to, helping me to make the most of my time there.
What I found were extensive records of the renegotiation of the Treaty of Jeddah – the original treaty with Britain that established Saudi Arabia as an independent and sovereign state. It was amazing. I was holding documents that had been handwritten more than 80 years ago, documents that determined the future of a country and a people. Text books make history far removed and a thing to be scrutinized and analyzed. But what I heard wasn’t the dry voice of an old man recounting the borders of the state or the lineage of the Amir. Instead, they were the voices of people – diplomats, kings, advisors – real people who had feelings, ambitions, and a sense of duty to their people. They told gossip, they made guesses; it was messy, but it was real life.
I am now in the spring semester of my senior year and at the midpoint of my Honors project. As I continue to read and reread these documents, I hope to gain a better understanding of what these people were thinking and what they were hoping to achieve. By understanding this, I can make history come alive.