Gertrude Bell, Archaeology, and Iraq

These days we Tennesseans hear an awful lot about Iraq, its ISIS-occupied territories, and various atrocities that are committed on an almost daily basis. As professional archaeologists, we care about all of these atrocities, particularly the ones that involve the destruction of cultural resources and the looting of archaeological sites to finance ISIS operations. However, one thing we almost never hear is positive information about Iraq. That changes right now.

Most people do not know that a female archaeologist by the name of Gertrude Bell (1868 – 1926) [Figure 1] was instrumental in the official founding of the modern State of Iraq after World War I. She also established the famous Baghdad Archaeological Museum (known today as the National Museum of Iraq). Gertrude was a British archaeologist and adventurer. She was also multi-talented and led a real life that would make Lara Croft and Indiana Jones blush with envy. You may read a synopsis of her life and work in Wikipedia—bearing in mind that articles in Wikipedia sometimes contain one or more factual inaccuracies. If you are interested in probing deeper and with more accuracy into the life of Gertrude Bell, you may click on this Wikipedia article at the following safe link and review the reference items listed at the bottom of it:

The Life and Work of Archaeologist Gertrude Bell


Figure 1.  Photograph of Gertrude Bell

We also have an interesting and surprising Tennessee connection here.  Nashville resident and actress Nicole Kidman (Figure 2) has played the role of Gertrude Bell in a movie entitled Queen of the Desert. According to IMDb, this movie was filmed in 2015 and is scheduled for first release to American theaters in 2017.  The movie is based on an early biographical book entitled Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert and Shaper of Nations (Figure 3).


Figure 2.  Nicole Kidman Playing the Role of Gertrude Bell


Figure 3.  Early Book Cover on Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations

As I have said in other places, some of the best archaeologists I have ever known are women archaeologists.  This article should be encouraging to female K-12 students and female undergraduate college students who are interested in becoming professional archaeologists or museum directors.  However, there is no reason to limit yourself to archaeology or museums alone. Why not try some nation building or something else fantastic along your own unique route in life?   If Gertrude could do it, so can you.  The Archaeology in Tennessee blog and the Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute  believe in your capacity for success.  Get out there in life and shoot for the stars!

Photograph Credits

Figure 1     The Daily Beast

Figure 2     Atlas Distribution Company

Figure 3     National Public Radio

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