Gertrude Bell, along with her colleague T. E. Lawrence, was the best known, most accomplished, and most renowned European Arabist of the early twentieth century. The second woman to graduate from Oxford, she traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, learning Persian and Arabic, and training as an archaeologist. Shortly after the turn of the century, she led important archaeological expeditions to Syria and Iraq, subsequently writing highly regarded and popular accounts of these expeditions. During and immediately after World War I, Bell served as Britain’s Oriental Secretary of Iraq and was responsible for drawing the borders of the state of Iraq, engineering the accession to the throne of King Faisal, helping to quell the insurrection of 1920, and founding the Iraq Museum. Despite these accomplishments, Bell apparently committed suicide in Baghdad in 1926 at the age of 57.
Gertrude Bell in Mesopotamia gathers letters, maps, books, intelligence reports, and photographs (many by Bell herself) to document this extraordinary life. The exhibition is curated by Robert Myers, this year’s Franke Visiting Scholar at the Whitney Humanities Center, and Miriam Ayres of New York University. Mr. Myers is a distinguished playwright and professor of literature and creative writing at the American University of Beirut, where he has also served as Director of the Center for American Studies. Mr. Myers has designed this exhibition in conjunction with a staged reading of his play Mesopotamia, in performance October 21 and 22 at the Whitney Humanities Center auditorium.