Gertrude Bell and the Pacification of Iraq

America in the Middle East: The Middle East in America. Proceedings of the First International Conference, Center for American Studies. Beirut: American University of Beirut. 2006.


My own approach is principally that of a writer of historical plays. One thing I have learned from writing and studying historical plays is that dramatizing history is a fictionalizing process that is necessarily reductionist. The most successful historical plays are the ones that, instead of trying to smooth out the narrative rough edges, find a form that grounds events in historical circumstances while also emphasizing the complexity of historiography. For example, Mad Forest, by Caryl Churchill; Gross Indecency, by Moises Kaufman; and Copenhagen, by Michael Frayn, interrogate not only events and their significance but the terms used to frame them.


What I’d like to do today is share some of the research I have come across in the process of writing a play about Gertrude Bell, the British writer, archaeologist and so-called Oriental Secretary of Iraq during the British occupation. I’m less interested in searching for facile analogies or unearthing cautionary tales than in offering observations about the use of language by Bell and her contemporaries and about how this language of empire in a previous period necessarily informs the vocabularies widely used to describe the current invasion and occupation of Iraq. (from p. 98)