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International cross-cultural conference opens at AUS
An international cross-cultural conference attended by distinguished academics and experts from universities and institutions all across the world opened today, October 31, at American University of Sharjah (AUS). Entitled Storytelling, Travel Writing and Seafaring from Cross-Cultural Perspectives, the event features a wide variety of panel sessions on various topics, and will take place at AUS as well as at venues belonging to the Sharjah Museums Authority (SMA). The four-day international conference is being held by the Arab-German Young Academy of Sciences and Humanities (AGYA) in collaboration with AUS and SMA.
The conference aims to explore the tradition of storytelling, travel accounts and seafaring stories in different cultures and communities, not only in the Arabian Gulf and other Arab regions, but also in the Persian, Indian and European cultures. The Arabian Gulf, however, is one of the most important crossroads of the modern world and one of the foci of the conference. It has been a meeting place of multiple cultures throughout different historical periods, from antiquity to the 21st century. It, therefore, offers excellent grounds for reflecting on storytelling, seafaring, descriptions of landscapes and travel writing from cross-cultural and interdisciplinary perspectives. These different literary genres share many common aspects and, in many ways, they stand at the beginning of literature itself, with mentions in famous examples of ancient classics such as The Epic of Gilgamesh and the writings of Homer.
With Sharjah known throughout the Middle East as the hub of culture and art-related activities, it was natural for a conference of this nature and stature to be held in the emirate, with AUS, SMA and AGYA collaborating to make the event a reality.
Addressing the delegates at the opening of the conference, Dr. Mahmoud Anabtawi, Dean of the AUS College of Arts and Sciences, said:
“Sharjah stands at the crossroads for the modern world, and therefore is an excellent place for high-caliber researchers to discuss issues of breadth and depth. This is in line with the vision His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council, Ruler of Sharjah and President of American University of Sharjah, has for education and is in synch with the university’s endeavors to become a leading research center in the region.”
Speaking on the occasion, Manal Ataya, Director General of Sharjah Museums Authority, said: “The traditions of seafaring and storytelling run deep in the history of Sharjah. The heritage of the emirate entails stories of pearl diving in the Arabian Gulf and merchants’ trade across the Indian Ocean.”
She added: “Attendees at the conference will witness our efforts at SMA in preserving the knowledge of older generations within the experiences and stories we gathered from Al Naboodah family members and the local community. Sharjah Museums Authority is honored to be working in close partnership with our colleagues at the Arab-German Young Academy of Sciences and Humanities and American University of Sharjah to host this inspiring conference that awakens the stories of our past to be heard by younger audiences and preserved for future generations.”
The conference is focusing on three main themes. Explaining these, Dr. David Wilmsen, Head of the Department of Arabic and Translation Studies at AUS, said:
“Several papers of this conference will address seafaring, which was what the inhabitants of this region depended on for earning their livelihoods. The second theme focuses on travel writing and there are eyewitness accounts of the southern Arabian Peninsula from writers of late antiquity that mention the cultures and civilizations of the Arabian Gulf. As for storytelling, it is an activity in which people have been engaging since well before any physical record of any human language.”
Representing AGYA, Dr. Christian Forn, said: “Sharjah is an excellent setting for the conference since the Arabian Gulf has played a vital role as a cross-cultural melting pot through history up until today, providing us with some inspiring geographical context to talk about travel writing and storytelling. Therefore, we are very thankful to the friendly representatives from AUS and SMA and to the UAE for having us here.”
The inaugural day of the event focused on different categories and topics under a variety of panel sessions. These sessions included Stories, Mapping and Migration; Travel and Imaginary Journey; Travel, Stories and Fiction; and Seafaring Travel. Sessions scheduled on subsequent days include: Sufis, Travel and Mirage; Travel and Learning; Western Perception of the Eastern World and Vice Versa: Narratives between Reality and Fiction; Pilgrimage and Travel Narrative; and Travel and Cultural Encounter, among many others.
Renowned academics from countries across the globe, including the United Kingdom, Egypt, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Tunisia and many more, are presenting papers and sharing their latest research with colleagues at the conference.
The conference sessions are divided between AUS – which will host sessions on October 31 and November 2 – and SMA, which will host the delegates on November 1 and 4. Apart from lecture sessions, the delegates will also tour some Sharjah museums, such as the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization, Bait Al Naboodah, Sharjah Calligraphy Museum, and Sharjah Maritime Museum, as well as the Sharjah Heritage Area.