Discovering Omani Narratives In Tourism

In summer 2012, Gretchen Nutz spent six weeks in the Sultanate of Oman analyzing how Oman portrays itself to the world through its tourism and what that portrayal tells us about how Omanis see their culture, history, and position in the region. She analyzed Oman’s tourist sites, monuments, and paraphernalia, and asked questions such as “Why is this significant to Omani identity?” “How could the story of Oman be told differently than how it is portrayed here?” and  “Does this site set Oman apart or does it emphasize Oman’s connection to other nations or cultures?” 

June 17, 2012

For nearly every one of the sixteen days I have been in Oman, I have been confused about the day of the week. Because of initial jet lag and the weekend falling on Thursday and Friday here, I am constantly checking my calendar to get my temporal bearings.

Despite my confusion, these sixteen days have given me a much faster start in my research than I could have hoped. I have met officials in the Ministry of Heritage and Culture and the Ministry of Tourism, and these have given me new ideas about what defines and symbolizes Omani national identity as well as what significant heritage sites I should visit to understand Omani narratives.

Between meetings, the bulk of my time has been spent in intensive study of Modern Standard and Omani colloquial Arabic, which are definitely a help as I develop relationships here and navigate my way around the capital city of Muscat and nearby tourism sites.

I’ve just begun a new schedule with reduced Arabic classes which allows me to focus more on research. My immediate priorities are following up on additional contacts, accessing the conceptual direction of my research thus far, and planning how to visit important heritage sites in additional to those I have already seen.

I am particularly eager to visit forts, which I am realizing play a key role in modern constructions of Omani identity. For example, I asked an Omani recently what she thought were the historically important places in Oman, and she immediately began talking about various forts. Museums are also on the agenda. The layout of the museum I visited, Bait Al-Zabair, seemed to emphasize forts, weapons, and men’s clothing as place markers in Omani culture, and I hope to look more closely at the narratives in this and other national museums.

An Asian and Middle Eastern Studies major, Gretchen Nutz is also a nontraditional student and a rising senior. She is a William & Mary Honors Fellow, and received scholarships from the Charles Center Honors Fellowship and James H. Critchfield Memorial Endowment which assisted her in studying abroad in Oman in 2012, and she blogged about her experience. On campus, Gretchen is involved in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Active Minds.

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