T. E. Lawrence and Historical Representation

  • James Gelvin


Contemporary American academic historians, such as myself, face a predicament that is partly of our own making. On the one hand, we bemoan the historical illiteracy of our students and the fact that what we do just does not seem to hold a great deal of interest for—or appear particularly relevant to the lives of—the public at large. On the other hand, all too many of us treat the very historical personalities and events that fascinate that public—the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the sinking of the Titanic, the identity of Jack the Ripper, the guilt or innocence of Lizzie Borden, and so on—with unconcealed scorn. At best, interest in these personalities and events is tolerated among our fellow professionals as guilty pleasures of a personal nature, seductive sideshows for slumming historians who might just as readily harbor a secret passion for Danielle Steel novels or television sitcoms. Or these personalities and events might be trotted out to perform the role of literary device, to be indulged because of their potential to whet a prospective audience’s appetite for “real history.” More often than not, however, when it comes to writing the dissertations and monographs that are the meat and potatoes of the contemporary historical profession, these personalities and events are, at present, only cursorily referenced—if, indeed, they are referenced at all.


Middle East Military Officer Character Sketch Academic Historian Arab Nation 
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    Elie Kedourie, “Colonel Lawrence,” in England and the Middle East: The Destruction of the Ottoman Empire, 1914–1921 (Boulder: Westview Press, 1987), 88.Google Scholar
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    T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph (New York: Anchor Books, 1991), 38.Google Scholar
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© Charles M. Stang 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • James Gelvin

There are no affiliations available

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