The Gertrude Bell Archive

Held at Newcastle University, the Gertrude Bell Archive contains over 10,000 items including correspondence, diaries, photographs (albums and negatives as well as loose prints), notebooks, lecture and photographic notes, and memoranda. It is complemented by the Gertrude Bell Collection, also held at the University, which comprises Bell’s working library of books, many of which include original handwritten annotations. The Gertrude Bell Collection can be explored using Library Search

The majority of the Gertrude Bell Archive was donated to the University after Bell’s death in 1926 by her half-sister, Lady Elsa Richmond. It has continued to be developed with subsequent donations including the correspondence of Charles Doughty-Wylie from St. Anthony’s College, Oxford. The Gertrude Bell Archive is jointly curated by the University Library’s Special Collections and the School of History, Classics and Archaeology.

The correspondence, diaries and photographs held within the Gertrude Bell Archive cover complex and crucial periods of geopolitical history, such as the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the First World War, and the creation of the Kingdom of Iraq. The material also provides detailed depictions of diverse landscapes, people, and cultures whilst recording Bell’s movements and experiences in the Middle East, Europe, and East Asia. Included within the Archive are extensive notes, photographs and sketches relating to Bell’s archaeological work, complemented by correspondence between Bell and her contemporaries on the subject.  

In 2017, the Archive was added to UNESCO’s International Memory of the World register – the documentary equivalent of becoming a World Heritage Site. It is one of only a handful in the UK to be included. More information about UNESCO’s recognition of the archive’s global significance can be found in this press release

Newly digitised images of Bell’s photographs, letters and diary entries can be found on this website, along with transcriptions where available. The development of this comprehensive resource and the creation of these scans have been made possible by the Gertrude Bell and the Kingdom of Iraq at 100 project, facilitated by generous funding from the Harry and Alice Stillman Family Foundation in Boca Raton, Florida. Whilst cataloguing of the Archive continues, a handlist to the Miscellaneous material is available.

Please note, geographical information included on this website for the purposes of searching and filtering uses modern place names as standard. Historic place names have been included where possible in item descriptions and in Bell's original photograph captions.

This website will continue to be developed and updated, and we would greatly appreciate input and feedback. If you have any comments or corrections, please get in touch using the contact form.

Outdated Attitudes and Language within the Archive

Please note that some content on this website contains outdated attitudes and language which may cause offence today. Work is ongoing to develop methodology relating to sensitive material within the archive and to ensure it is treated and described appropriately. To learn more about this work, please visit our Special for Everyone webpage for more information.

Gertrude Bell (1868-1926)

Gertrude Bell at 26 years old.

Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell was born on the 14th July 1868 into a wealthy family at Washington New Hall in what was then County Durham. Initially home-schooled she later attended school in London, eventually gaining a first-class pass in Modern History (degree equivalent) whilst attending Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. Thereafter she travelled in Europe and also spent several months in Bucharest and in Tehran. Her travels continued with two round-the-world trips: one in 1897-1898 and one in 1902-1903. After her trip to Tehran, Persia (modern-day Iran), Bell began learning the Persian language and in 1897 published a volume of translated Persia poetry, Poems from the Divan of Hafez. 

From the turn of the century, Bell began to further explore the Middle East and develop her keen interest in archaeology. Travelling throughout the Middle East, Bell visited and documented significant archaeological sites in Syria, Turkey, and Mesopotamia (now modern-day Iraq) as well as publishing volumes of travel writing. Her knowledge of the Middle East and of Mesopotamia in particular, attracted the attention of British Intelligence recruitment during the First World War. Working for the Arab Bureau with colleagues such as T.E. Lawrence (also known as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’), Bell utilised her connections and geographical knowledge of the Middle East to the benefit of the British military, playing a key role in the success of their campaign against the Ottoman Empire. At the end of the war, Bell remained in Mesopotamia and became heavily involved in the British Administration of the region. She was present at the Cairo Conference in 1921 and, along with T.E. Lawrence, championed the selection of Feisal, son of the Sharif of Mecca, as King of the state of Iraq.  

After the coronation of King Feisal in August 1921, Bell began to devote increasing time to archaeology and the cultural heritage of Iraq. She was given the position of Honorary Director of Antiquities and in this role established the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. She also wrote the first antiquities law for the state and supervised archaeological excavations at significant sites such as Ur and Kish.  

Bell died of an overdose of sleeping pills in her home in Baghdad on the 12th July 1926, days before her 58th birthday.   

During her life, several volumes of Bell’s travel writing and archaeological studies were published, beginning with The Desert and the Sown which covered her 1905 expedition through the Syrian Desert to Asia Minor. This was followed in 1907 by her study of Binbirkilise on the Kara Dag mountain with Sir William Ramsay entitled The Thousand and One Churches. This publication remains the standard work on early Byzantine architecture in Anatolia. Bell’s later journeys were published in the 1911 volume From Amurath to Amurath, and were followed by her archaeological study Palace and mosque at Ukhaidir: a study in early Mohammadan architecture in 1914.  

Two volumes of Bell’s letters edited by her stepmother Florence Bell were published in 1927 (The Letters of Gertrude Bell). These were followed by an additional volume (The Earlier Letters of Gertrude Bell) edited her half-sister, Lady Elsa Richmond, in 1937.

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