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Born at Washington Hall, County Durham in 1868, Gertrude Bell was the daughter of Sir Hugh Lowthian Bell, iron master and Mayor of Middlesbrough. The family’s fortune was built by her grandfather, industrialist Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell MP, and Gertrude’s younger years were spent alternating between her grand family home in Redcar, and the Bells’ London residence. With the backing of her father and stepmother, she went to Oxford and became a brilliant scholar and linguist - she could speak 8 languages, including fluent Arabic. Gertrude’s achievements as a pioneering woman are considerable. She developed a passion for the history and culture of the Arab peoples, and her distinguished career as an archaeologist left a legacy of books, photographs, diaries and correspondence that have global significance. She was the only woman to hold an official position in the Arab Bureau in Cairo during World War I, and was part of the British government’s diplomatic staff as a Political Officer in Basra and Oriental Secretary in Baghdad, both now in modern-day Iraq. She became the first Director of Antiquities in Iraq, and founded the Iraqi Archaeological Museum in Baghdad. The circumstances of her death are still a cause of controversy.
This introductory lecture to Gertrude Bell by Helen Berry (Professor of British History, Newcastle University) presents some of the most recent international interest in her career, drawing upon her remarkable archive, held in the Special Collections at Newcastle University.
This is the Charles Parish Memorial Lecture.
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