Thursday, November 13, 2008


From The Gertrude Bell Project at Newcastle University, an archive of her diaries and photographs

"Gertrude Bell (1868-1926) was born in Washington, in what was then Co. Durham, but, when she was very young, she moved with her family to Redcar. She was educated first of all at home, and then at school in London; finally, in a time when it was not at all usual for a woman to have a university education, she went to Oxford to read history, and, at the age of twenty and after only two years study, she left with a first-class degree. In the years immediately following, she spent time on the social round in London and Yorkshire, she travelled extensively in Europe, and visited Persia. Her travels continued with two round the world trips, in 1897-1898 and in 1902-1903. At about this time too, in the seasons1899-1904, her climbing exploits in the Alps earned her renown as a mountaineer.

But from the turn of the century onwards, her life was governed by a love of the Arab peoples, inspired, it seems, by a visit to friends in Jerusalem in 1899-1900. She learned their language, investigated their archaeological sites, and travelled deep into the desert, accompanied only by male guides. Her knowledge of the country and its tribes thereby gained made her a prime target for recruitment by British Intelligence during the First World War, later, as a Political Officer, and then as Oriental Secretary to the High Commissioner in Baghdad, she became a king-maker in the new state of Iraq, which she had helped to create. Her first love, however, was always for archaeology, and, as Honorary Director of Antiquities in Iraq, she established in Baghdad the Iraq Museum."

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