University Events

Archive Items

INSIGHTS Revisited: Gertrude Bell and the ‘Woman Question’ by Professor Helen Berry

Helen Berry, Professor of British History, Newcastle University

Date/Time: Tuesday 21 July 2020, 17:30 - 18:30

With updated introduction by Professor Helen Berry

In 2016 Professor Helen Berry delivered her INSIGHTS lecture on the life of Gertrude Bell.

This lecture explores the paradoxes and contradictions in Gertrude Bell’s life from the perspective of women’s history. To some, Bell could be regarded as a feminist icon, a pioneering woman in a man’s world – a scholar, traveller, archaeologist, diplomat and curator in an era where few careers were open to women. Until recently, Bell’s legacy was little known beyond academic circles, and like many extraordinary women she seemed destined to be hidden from history. 

This lecture considers the reasons for Bell’s relative obscurity until recent times, arguing that like many exceptional women her lack of posthumous commemoration could be blamed at least partly upon the tendency for history to be written by men, about men. On many political and social issues, Bell did little to endear herself to modern sensibilities – on matters ranging from women’s votes to vivisection, empire to ethnicity, her views are often rightly considered to have no place in the twenty-first century.

Bell’s all-too-human tendency to live with her own contradictions are explored, as a public woman who was against women’s rights but favoured Iraqi women’s education, and as an imperialist whose preference for exile among Arab peoples made it impossible for her to return permanently to live in England. 

Join us on Tuesday 21 July to watch the lecture with fellow audience members and take part in the conversation online.