Among the people who stand out in the history of European colonialism in the Middle East are the swashbuckling, native dress-sporting, megalomaniacal figures like T.E. Lawrence (the title character of Lawrence of Arabia) and Sir Richard Francis Burton (best known for translating the Arabian Nights and sneaking into the holy city of Mecca). But tell me this: Has either Lawrence or Burton had a comic strip written about them based on archival material from their adventures??
Well maybe. But so has another big name in European orientalism: Gertrude Bell, the British archaeologist, diplomat and spy whom Werner Herzog called Queen of the Desert and who was influential in establishing British Middle East policy during and after World War I. Now, thanks to Newcastle University’s Gertrude Bell Archive project, students of the modern Middle East can read about Gertrude Bell’s exploits in a COMIC BOOK based on diaries, letters, photos and other archival documents from Bell’s life.
The Newcastle project isn’t the only online collection of materials about Bell. Oxford University has put some of their Middle East Centre Archive online for viewing, including part of its Gertrude Bell Photo Gallery. The collection is especially strong in pictures from Bell’s tenure in modern-day Iraq, which she had a hand in shaping through a report, “Self-Determination in Mesopotamia,” that assessed the leadership needs of local tribes from a British policy perspective.
Now that there’s a comic book out, maybe Marvel and Disney will start a new movie franchise! Let’s all hold our collective breath.