The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) remains cloaked in mystery and stereotypes especially when it pertains to its female population. Oppression? Subjugation? Discontent? These typecasts reverberate around the world, but interestingly when one speaks to a Saudi woman her story offers diverging representations of Saudi life that often debunk those expressed elsewhere. But without scholars asking “real” people about their lives and analyzing their lived responses, these dominant narratives are reaffirmed over and over again. To move beyond these stereotypes, this paper attempts to address the lives of Saudi Arabian females by using firsthand accounts obtained for an undergraduate student project. “The Oral History Project”, initiated by the two authors using traditional oral history methods to teach history, geography and leadership at a private university in the kingdom, has female students interviewing family members about their past focusing on topics such as their life, family, tribe, and transformations due to modernity. The goal is to focus on the female perspective. Students asked common questions such as: What is life-like for a Saudi woman? How does it differ from when you were a child? How have women navigated the constraints of a traditional society and how do they perceive themselves in it? Familial responses were recorded, translated, and transcribed to create an overview of each family’s history.

Author Biography

Dr. Winkel earned her Ph.D. from the University of Potsdam, Germany, researching the 18th century Prussian Army. University positions in Germany and China preceded her current post at Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University in Saudi Arabia. During and after the completion of her Ph.D., she worked for the Military History Research Institute of the Armed Forces in Germany and was the Coordinator for the Master Program “Military Studies” at the University of Potsdam. Email: cwinkel@pmu.edu.sa.

Dr. Strachan is a Canadian socio-cultural anthropologist with a Ph.D. from McMaster University, Canada. She has twenty years of experience in the Arabian Peninsula specializing in environmental protection, international development, Bedouin tribes and sustainability. Her research interests include female Bedouin tattooing, Arabian oral histories and petroglyphs in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Sultanate of Oman, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. She is currently an Assistant Professor at Prince Mohammed Bin Fahd University, KSA. Email: lstrachan@pmu.edu.sa