Newcastle University: Talks will reflect on a century of Iraq

A talk by the directors of a highly acclaimed film about the life and work of Gertrude Bell is among the highlights of a week-long series of public lectures organised by Newcastle University.

Lasting impact
Coinciding with the centenary of the conference in Cairo that decided the future of modern Iraq, the free public lectures – which have been organised by the University’s School of History, Classics and Archaeology – will look at the legacy of Bell through discussions covering the architecture, archaeology and cultural heritage of Iraq.

Until recently Bell has been little known beyond the specialist world of Middle Eastern archaeology yet her legacy is significant, including the role she played in the political settlement that led to the formation of modern-day Iraq.

Newcastle University holds an extraordinary and unique archive of letters, diaries and photographs belonging to Gertrude Bell, and the talks will use the materials in the Gertrude Bell archive as their starting point.

The programme opens with a talk from Dr Sana Al-Naimi, Architect and external design tutor at the School of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape, Newcastle University. Dr Al-Naimi will talk about archives as sites of contention, sharing some of the insights she arrived at during her PhD journey through critically analysing and contextualising the Gertrude Bell Archive

“As researchers, it’s important to treat visual and textual archival material as particular political perspectives, as opposed to unquestionable ‘truth’”, explained Dr Al-Naimi. “My research with the Gertrude Bell archive explored the enduring spatial implications of her vision, which not only shaped post-WWI Iraq but also informed the conflicting policies of consecutive governments. By questioning and interrogating the power structures the archive divulged, analysing conflicting account of events, and using my skills as an architect, I was able to reveal the controversial social and political consequences of her spatial interventions that had been previously overlooked.”

Other highlights include talks from Dr Abdulameer Al-Hamdani, Former Minister of Culture, Iraq, who will deliver a lecture looking at the work being done to document Iraq’s archaeological heritage, much of which has dramatically changed over the last century.

The week will conclude with the discussion with Sabine Krayenbühl and Zeva Oelbaum, the two directors of the 2017 film ‘Letters from Baghdad’.

Dr Claire Stocks, one of the organisers of the week’s events and senior lecturer in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, said: “Gertrude Bell was one of the most remarkable women of the 20th century. She continues to have a profound impact on the modern world through her legacy in the Middle East, especially in the formation of Iraq and subsequent changes throughout the region. This week of special lectures will see experts across a range of areas discuss the influence of Gertrude Bell and consider how we can – and should – reassess the materials in the archive.”

All the talks will be delivered online and are free to watch. The full programme is –

– Archives as Sites of Contention, Monday 1st March, 12pm-1pm: Dr Sana Al-Naimi, Architect and external design tutor at the School of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape, Newcastle University

– Documenting Iraq’s Archaeological Heritage: A New Surveys and Digital Database, Tuesday 2nd March, 2pm-3pm: Dr Abdulameer Al-Hamdani, Former Minister of Culture, Iraq

– Cultural Heritage in Iraq today, Wednesday 3rd March, 12pm- 1 pm: Dr Mehiyar Kathem, Research Associate at UCL and Nahrein Network Coordinator

– The importance of documenting the landscape archaeology of southern Mesopotamia, Thursday 4th March, 12pm-1pm: Dr Jaafar Jotheri, Assistant Professor in Geoarchaeology, Vice Dean, Faulty of Archaeology, University of Al-Qadisiyah

– Discussion with the producers of ‘Letters from Baghdad’ Sabine Krayenbühl and Zeva Oelbaum, hosted by Dr Sana Al-Naimi, Friday 5th March, 6pm-7pm


Image of Gertrude Bell, courtesy of the Gertrude Bell Archive
This week of special lectures will see experts across a range of areas discuss the influence of Gertrude Bell and consider how we can – and should – reassess the materials in the archive.
Dr Claire Stocks

Unique record
In 2017, the unique record of letters, diaries, and photographs in the Gertrude Bell archive was inscribed into the UNESCO International Memory of the World Register.

Close to 10,000 unique items, the archive provides a unique record of the people and cultural contexts from the many ethnic and religious groups living through the transition from the Ottoman empire of the late 19th century to the period of the establishment of the modern Turkish, Syrian, Iraqi, and Jordanian states. The photographs preserve a precious record of these communities many of which have changed dramatically over the past century.

The bulk of the archive has now been digitised and transcribed and is available through a dedicated website, allowing access to the archive for users around the world, including further online digitisation and interpretation.

Dr Stocks added: “These talks are one way in which we are working with communities in the UK and abroad whose heritage is recorded through Bell’s personal reflections. The archive is an amazing resource and preserves records of people and places across the world but we need to re-evaluate how we use these materials. As events in the Middle East and across the world continue to change, the archive continually takes on new and unexpected significance.”

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