Clinton Bailey Archive of Bedouin Culture
The National Library is home to a unique research collection documenting the rich oral culture of Bedouin communities in Israel, Jordan, and the Sinai desert. The collection includes some 350 hours of recorded interviews with hundreds of Bedouin men and women, including judges, tribal sheikhs, and notables, as well as accompanying photos and other materials. The interviews, conducted in the Bedouin dialect of Arabic and recorded between 1968 and 2007, are the result of a lifetime of dedicated work by the American-Israeli scholar Dr. Clinton Bailey.
Clinton Bailey was born in Buffalo, New York in 1937. He came to Israel for the first time in 1957 to study for a bachelor’s degree in the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University, and then returned to the United States to earn his doctorate in Political Science in Middle Eastern Studies from Columbia University. A chance meeting with Paula Ben-Gurion on a visit to Israel in 1967 led to a meeting with Israel’s founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion. At Ben-Gurion’s suggestion, Bailey moved to Kibbutz Sde Boker to take up work as an English teacher in 1968.
Fascinated by the culture of the local Bedouin in the Negev Desert, Bailey began interviewing members of the community about their oral traditions, judicial system, and daily life. His more than five decades of research has established him as a world-renowned expert in the field, and this one-of-a-kind archive of recordings will enable the work of future scholars.
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 recorded interviews and photographs have been digitized and are freely accessible online through the Library website. Future stages of the project will include transcribing the audio recordings into written Arabic, translating the metadata, and building a dedicated portal for the collection in three languages.
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, the Dorot Foundation, Marcie Polier Swartz/Grantors Foundation, the Alan B. Slifka Foundation, the Elms Foundation, Elizabeth Star, Lynn Holstein, the Seven Pillars of Wisdom Fund, and other donors.