Research and discussion
Page updated May 2012
The State of T. E. Lawrence Research and Scholarship
The career of T. E. Lawrence presents scholars with two unusual challenges.
First, it crossed academic boundaries, straying into mediaeval history, archaeology, military history, British diplomatic history, Middle East studies, English literature, and so on. Therefore, "T.E.Lawrence studies" do not fit within the scope of any traditional academic department.
Secondly, because Lawrence was a celebrity, scholars have to excavate fact from beneath accumulated layers of media legend. This can be time-consuming when working in your own academic field. When your subject's activities cross into other fields, the task becomes daunting.
Nevertheless, Lawrence merits scholarly attention. This would be true even without the achievements for which he became famous. His writings and his many friendships among the intellectual elite of his day guarantee him a place in British history.
During the past forty years a handful of academics have researched aspects of Lawrence's career. Likewise, research students sometimes choose something he did as a thesis topic. Yet, until recently, these efforts lacked any overall focus. Three important things were lacking:
A forum where different academic specialists could meet and draw upon each other's expertise
A peer-reviewed research journal focused on Lawrence's career that would provide a vehicle for publishing scholarly articles
A publishing programme that, instead of focusing on editions that would sell well to the general public, would make scholarly editions of primary source-materials more widely available in university libraries.
Because of Lawrence's fragmented career, these necessary initiatives were unlikely to be sponsored by any academic department, even though most of the major T.E. Lawrence research collections are in university libraries.
Instead, scholars like myself have drawn on the wider interest in Lawrence to support scholarly initiatives that seemed otherwise impossible.
All three the elements listed above are now in place:
Forum - The moderated T.E. Lawrence Studies discussion list brings together scholars from many countries and research fields. Questions to the list are generally answered by experts.
Journal - The peer-reviewed T.E. Lawrence Studies online journal - now integrated into the 'Discussion' area - has been designed to fill this need.
Publishing programme - The 'Writings' section of this website and the Castle Hill Press publishing programme are making Lawrence's published and previously unpublished writings more widely available than ever before.
The kind of broad-based collaboration needed for this holistic approach produces rich rewards. T.E. Lawrence research is now advancing on many fronts. As the tide of legend is rolled back, popular myth and speculation become far less of a barrier. At the same time, scholars have much easier access to knowledge that lies outside their own speciality. As a result, the academic world is at last in a position to take up the challenges set by Lawrence's many-faceted career.
T. E. Lawrence chronology
1888 16 August: born at Tremadoc, Wales
1896-1907: City of Oxford High School for Boys
1907-9: Jesus College, Oxford, B.A., 1st Class Hons, 1909
1910-14: Magdalen College, Oxford (Senior Demy), while working at the British Museum's excavations at Carchemish
1915-16: Military Intelligence Dept, Cairo
1916-18: Liaison Officer with the Arab Revolt
1919: Attended the Paris Peace Conference
1919-22: wrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom
1921-2: Adviser on Arab Affairs to Winston Churchill at the Colonial Office
1922 August: Enlisted in the Ranks of the RAF
1923 January: discharged from the RAF
1923 March: enlisted in the Tank Corps
1923: translated a French novel, The Forest Giant
1924-6: prepared the subscribers' abridgement of Seven Pillars of Wisdom
1927-8: stationed at Karachi, then Miranshah
1927 March: Revolt in the Desert, an abridgement of Seven Pillars, published
1928: completed The Mint, began translating Homer's Odyssey
1929-33: stationed at Plymouth
1931: started working on RAF boats
1932: his translation of the Odyssey published
1933-5: attached to MAEE, Felixstowe
1935 February: retired from the RAF
1935 19 May: died from injuries received in a motor-cycle crash on 13 May
1935 21 May: buried at Moreton, Dorset