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Gertrude bell exhibition

Queen of the desert exhibition goes on show

Published on: 29 January 2016

The life of the North East born explorer, archaeologist and diplomat Gertrude Bell, is in the spotlight at a major new exhibition.

The Extraordinary Gertrude Bell is the result of a collaboration between Newcastle University which holds the Gertrude Bell Archive, and the Great North Museum: Hancock.

Drawn from Bell’s prolific correspondence, papers and photographs, the exhibition will also feature objects loaned from the British Museum, Imperial War Museum and the Royal Geographical Society.

During a bold, risk-taking career which embraced archaeology, mountaineering, languages, writing and politics, Gertrude Bell helped to shape the Middle East after World War I.

The exhibition will explore her life and career through the themes of archaeology, politics, exploration and her involvement in the creation of the state of Iraq.   It will also investigate her legacy as a woman living and working in the male-dominated worlds of diplomacy and politics in the early 20th Century.  

Photograph courtesy of the Gertrude Bell Archive

Extraordinary woman

Bell expert, co-curator and guardian of the Gertrude Bell Photographic Archive at Newcastle University, Dr Mark Jackson said: “A hundred years ago in January 2016, in the midst of World War I, Gertrude Bell travelled to Delhi to negotiate with the Viceroy of India on behalf of the nascent Arab Bureau in Cairo about the war in Mesopotamia.

"There are so many elements of her life that have significance for our own times. We hope this exhibition will stimulate considerable interest and debate; she was an extraordinary woman.”

Co-curator Andrew Parkin at the Great North Museum: Hancock said: “Gertrude Bell made significant contributions in so many different areas, including archaeology, exploration and the politics of the Middle East. She frequently found herself in a male-dominated environment but was nearly always able to hold her own whether dealing with British Government officials and politicians or leaders of the various Arab tribes she encountered on her travels.

“We’re very pleased to be able to create this original exhibition in partnership with Newcastle University. The Gertrude Bell Archive offers a wealth of material and it’s safe to say her correspondence provides invaluable insights into the British Empire and the Middle East a century ago.”

Bell artefacts

Some of the items on display were acquired as recently as 2014 by Newcastle University, including four embroidered fabrics used as tent dividers by Bell. These are believed to come from the Sivas region (now modern day Turkey) and were probably made by the semi-nomadic Rerylahni and Kurdish group of the region. Also on show will be more personal items from Bell’s travels such as a silver cigarette case and a gold ring set.

University experts David Lowther, Professor Helen Berry and Professor Peter Stone, have contributed to the exhibition, which features newly commissioned videos and a book  available to purchase in the museum shop. 

The Extraordinary Gertrude Bell runs at the Great North Museum: Hancock from 30 January to 3 May. Professor Helen Berry will give the free public lecture Gertrude Bell and the 'Woman Question' at Newcastle University on 23 February. 


Press release courtesy of Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums. 

Video:The Extraordinary Gertrude Bell

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