Lamia Al-Gailani Werr, Ph.D.
“She was very keen to communicate on the popular level and make archaeology accessible to ordinary people,”
– Noorah Al-Gailani, daughter to Dr. Gailani
Dr. Gailani was a well-respected archeologist who contributed lots of research on Mesopotamian stone cylinder seals, and was also well-known for her help in recovering looted cylinder seals from the Natural Museum of Iraq after looting from the US invasion in 2003. Dr. Gailani obtained her master’s degree from the University of Edinburgh and followed it with a Ph.D. at the University College London. Throughout her career, she bounced back and forth between living in England and doing research in Baghdad. This aspect of being strongly educated in both English and Arabic allowed her work with each culture and allow a connection to form between the two through her familiarity in both. Her pride of her own background and passion for ancient cylinder seals is what makes her stand out as an excellent archeologist; in fact, she was awarded the Gertrude Bell Memorial Gold medal from the British Institute for the Study of Iraq in 2009. Dr. Gailani recently passed on January 18, 2019, and she will be missed for the 80 years she spent her life following her passion and pursing worthwhile causes. She was still active within Iraqui archaeology prior to her passing; she was involved in the process of personally selecting cylinder seals to be displayed within the Basra Museum. We would like to honor Dr. Gailani in this post due to being an excellent example of a scholar that deserves high recognition; not only did she contribute her scholarly work and research, but she also fought for Iraqui women’s rights and ability to participate in whatever field they wanted, a message we aim to emphasize through these blog posts. We encourage you to read and find out more about her by visiting the links below that acknowledge her in her passing:
Arab News. (2019, January 21). Iraq says goodbye to its beloved archaeologist Al-
Gailani. Retrieved from http://www.arabnews.com/node/1439216/art-culture
Arraf, J. (2019, February 2). Remembering Lamia Al-Gailani, Pioneering Iraqi
Archaeologist. Retrieved from
Beyond the Dash. (2019, January 20). Iraqui archaeologist, museums champion dies at
- Retrieved from https://beyondthedash.com/obituary/lamia-al-gailani-1938-2019-1072310889
Ditmars, H. (2019, February 9). ‘The Rose of Baghdad’: Lamia al-Gailani-Werr,
defender of Iraq’s heritage. Retrieved from https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/rose-baghdad-lamia-al-gailani-werr-defender-iraqs-heritage
The National. (2019, January 19). Iraqui ‘treasure’ Lamia Al Gailani Werr dies in
Amman. Retrieved from https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/iraqi-treasure-lamia-al-gailani-werr-dies-in-amman-1.815408
Sandomir, R. (2019, January 2019). Lamia Al-Gailani Werr, 80, Dies; Archaeologist
Rescued Iraqi Art. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/25/obituaries/lamia-al-gailani-werr-80-dies-archaeologist-rescued-iraqi-art.html
It is not uncommon to begin to read stories of memorable woman who have actively wrote and contributed to research, expecting to find concentrated information on that individual – and yet, the resource seems to continue to fixate on her partner instead of her contribution alone. Her partner becomes an attachment to her own name, frequently popping up in various database searches as a combined name. This case is no different for Isabel Burton. Often linked to her husband, Richard, the research come across for Isabel Burton labels her life as one that revolves strictly around romance. However, her life was full of many memorable moments as a curious individual looking to help others. During the Crimean War in the earlier 1850s, Burton wanted to help as a nurse, but was turned down because of her age and lack of experience. Thus, she still wanted to assist in any way possible. She ended up creating what was known as the “Stella Club” with Catholic friends to aid families of soldiers back in the slums of London. (add transisition) Isabel’s very first independent publication was titled, “The Inner Life of Syria, Palestine, and the Holy Land: From My Private Journal”. Within the preface, Burton offers many disclaimers in which she specifies how her publication will be much more personal and will contain “things women would like to know”. This bridges into the concept of women’s travel writing, which is discussed by Patricia M.E. Lorcin – a current Professor within the Department of History at the University of Minnesota. Prof. Lorcin discusses how records of women’s travel writing are a very useful source for many reasons, including the various backgrounds of these women, and how we can use these texts to analyze the relation between the author and the subject. For example, Lorcin states, “…travel literature consists of the impressions of one culture viewing another, and women’s travel literature of one gender viewing others…an excellent way of introducing concepts of cultural difference and discussing the way in which gender does, or does not, shape perceptions.” It is through these writings that one can observe the interactions of different cultures, providing historic information on how perception of culture was during various time periods and the relationship between them. Burton also brings this idea up in her publication, stating, “I wish to convey an idea of the life which an Englishwoman may make for herself in the East,” (Burton, vii). Instead of brushing off texts like these because they don’t appear to be ‘professional’, it’s important to note they are still intriguing and informational sources.
In the interest of avoiding putting Isabel Burton in the shadow of her husband, I leave you with this quote, also from the Preface of “The Inner Life of Syria, Palestine, and the Holy Land: From My Private Journal”:
“And if this book proves to be the humble instrument that launches and prospers any one of my philanthropic projects for the land of my heart, I shall have lived for some good purpose, and when I lie upon my death-bed I shall not be haunted by that nightmare thought – ‘I have never been of any use,’” (Burton, viii).
Burton, I. (1875).The Inner Life of Syria, Palestine, and the Holy Land. London: Henry S. King & Co.
Cotterman, W. W. (2013). Improbable Women: Five Who Explored the Middle East.
Syracuse University Press. Retrieved February 27, 2019, from Project MUSE database.
Lorcin, P. Women’s Travel Writing. Texas Tech University. Retrieved February 27, 2019, from the Center for History and New Media, George Mason University.
December 6, 2018
It’s important to acknowledge underrepresented scholars who have had an impact, even if they are no longer with us to be a part of the discussion; acknowledging those from the past allows us to respect their achievements and continue to inspire scholars in the present-day. One individual from the past who deserves to be recognized for her significance is Gertrude Bell. On July 14, 1868, Gertrude Bell was born into a family that created an environment for their daughter to begin to explore all of her passions and curiosities about the world around her. Growing up, Bell was introduced to traveling at a young age, building a foundation for travel, language, and history from the very start. Her adventurous attitude and knack for history are what ultimately led her to attend Oxford University in 1886; she attended Lady Margaret Hall and sparked the beginning of her life that would be immersed in learning and knowledge about the world.
Travel became a significant part of Bell’s life and is what accounted for her large contribution to information on the Ancient Middle East. Her interest in other people pushed her to go to new places to learn about them, discovering new languages and culture. She started studying Persian in 1892, later on publishing a travel book about Persia titled, Safar Nameh, Persian Pictures, two years later. Along with studying Persian, Bell studied Arabic; she set out for a journey to Moab in March of 1900. She spent her days exploring with her party, writing notes and taking pictures along the way. She learned from the muleteers in her party along the way and desired to learn more about this other culture. She also made it a point to observe the women she encountered during her travels, bringing them up within her notes. She continued traveling in her lifetime, making trips in Mesopotamia and northern Arabia and mapping/photographing along the way and meeting various individuals that would help her understand and learn more about the places she was visiting. Her experience in travel caused her to become increasingly known and valued because of her influence in the Middle East; in fact, in the year of 1915, she was “sent to work with the government of India concerning coordination between their operations and those of the Arab Bureau in Cairo,” (Cotterman). Her influence continued to grow, and Bell eventually also became involved in drawing boundaries of the new state of Iraq. Through all of these various influences, there is no doubt that she had a large impact on the knowledge – through both noting information and using visuals – of the Ancient Middle East. Her findings are significant today, and it is important to acknowledge such a vast impact through highlighting the achievements of Gertrude Bell.
Cooper, L. (2016). In Search of Kings and Conquerors: Gertrude Bell and the Archaeology of
the Middle East. New York, NY: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd.
Cotterman, W. W. (2013). Improbable Women: Five Who Explored the Middle East.
Syracuse University Press. Retrieved December 4, 2018, from Project MUSE database.