Gertrude Bell’s judgments as both a scholar and a civil servant were informed by her education, social position and patrician views. Her travel writings, photography and archaeological work reveal the tensions that existed between Bell’s industrial, rational background and an imagined timeless ‘Orient’, the racial origins of which were being understood as a source of Western civilisation. Bell’s expertise became strategically vital with the outbreak of the First World War and, as a member of British Army Intelligence and then ‘Oriental Secretary’ – the only woman serving as a political officer – her cultural, archaeological, historical and ethnographic knowledge and understandings were transformed into political intelligence and administrative reason. They shaped Bell’s views about those she felt should govern in Iraq, which had a fateful and lasting effect on the organisation of power and privilege in the state, and underpinned the importance she placed on the region’s archaeological past as an element in the state-building process.
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