Home » Online Exhibition – Yemen Through Dutch Lens

Online Exhibition – Yemen Through Dutch Lens

Northern Yemen; a highland region often in the news as the center of the Houthi regime, has a political, social, and intellectual history spanning more than a millennium. This exhibition showcases some of the findings of the Early Modern State Development in Yemen project, based at Leiden University, using highlights from the Leiden University Libraries’ (UBL) unique Yemeni collections. This exhibition shows how researchers use manuscripts, maps and photographs to reconstruct the country’s complex history.

Map of Yemen published in travel book by Danish Carsten Niebuhr (1733-1815).

Leiden University Libraries holds a rich collection of materials related to Yemen. These objects, including manuscripts, maps, and photographs, allow researchers to gain detailed insight into the history of especially Northern Yemen, a region that has been ruled by the Zaydis, a Shiʿi sect, since the tenth century CE. The Zaydis not only maintained a resilient state in the face of various challenges, including two Ottoman conquests but also preserved and developed rich intellectual heritage. Leiden University Libraries has been collecting Yemeni manuscripts since the sixteenth century, making it one of the oldest collections of this heritage in Europe. The exhibition ‘Yemen through the Dutch lens’ presents some of these materials.

Commentary on teachings by Imam al-Hādī ilā-l-ḥaqq, founder of the Zaydi Imamate in Yemen.

Another aspect of the Yemeni collection that the exhibition highlights is the photographs and impressions of Dutch visitors to the region. Two key figures who visited the region and were able to insightfully observe its transformation from a premodern state to a modern society. One was Cornelis Adriaanse, the Dutch chargé d’affaires in Jeddah, and the other Gellius Flieringa, an engineer invited by the Yemeni government to assist with the renovation of the port of Hodeidah. They engaged not only with the Muslims but also with the local Jewish community. Their photographs, letters, and reports give a unique insight into Yemeni society and politics in the 1930s.

Early Modern State Development in Yemen project

The Early Modern State Development in Yemen project, funded by the Horizon-2020 Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions program, studies the development of Northern Yemeni, Zaydi society and statehood. It investigates the transformation of Zaydi institutions and thought during a time of political change, relying on the Yemeni collections in Leiden University Libraries’ Special Collections. This exhibition showcases some of the findings of the project.

  • Hadj in Hodeidah
  • Biography of sixteenth-century Ottoman Governor in Yemen. The first Jemeni Manuscript in the Leiden Special Collections. [Or. 477]
  • Jewish kids in Sanaa
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