Conference: Writing Lawrence and his World


Magdalen College Auditorium

Event type

Alumni, College, Library, Public


31 August 2023



Magdalen College Archives’ conference Writing Lawrence and his World: Jeremy Wilson and the Art/Science of Biography will take place on 31 August 2023.

Registration for this event is now closed

The soldier, archaeologist and writer T.E. Lawrence, also known as Lawrence of Arabia, is one of the most elusive and controversial figures of the twentieth-century and also one of the most studied.

He has intrigued generations of biographers and interpreters from his contemporaries in the 1930s to students re-analysing his role in the Middle East one hundred years later. In 1989, Jeremy Wilson produced a monumental authorised biography of Lawrence that was based on unprecedented access to official records and personal letters, and proved to be a landmark in Lawrence biography. To celebrate the cataloguing of Wilson’s extensive archive, we are bringing a range of speakers who have approached Lawrence from a variety of different perspectives, professions and genres.

We explore conflicts and controversies in the history of Lawrence biography, approach Lawrence from the view of the indexer, the bookseller and the archivist, find out how some of the latest major biographies of Lawrence were written, delve into some intriguing new stories in Lawrence research, explore Lawrence in parallel with the stories of his friends and contemporaries, and discover how Lawrence is transformed and re-interpreted in fiction and art.

Our keynote speaker will be Sabina Murray, award-winning novelist and screenwriter, who will tell us about researching and writing her new bio-fictive novel about T.E. Lawrence, using the Wilson Archive at Magdalen. The conference will take place on 31 August 2023 at Magdalen College.


9:00am Welcome – Dr Richard Allen, Magdalen College Archives

9:10am-11:10am Panel One: Jeremy Wilson and his Archive

Ed Maggs, Maggs Brothers Ltd, Rare Books and Manuscripts. “Lawrence Biography, and the arrival of a professional on the scene”.

Hazel Bell, Society of Indexers. Paper on indexing the works of T.E. Lawrence [Title TBC].

Joe Berton, T.E. Lawrence Society. “Jeremy Wilson and A.W. Lawrence, the start of an ‘authorized biography’”.

Dr Lucy Smith, Magdalen College Archives. “Cataloguing the Jeremy Wilson Archive”.

Break 11:10-11:30

11:30-12:30. Keynote: Sabina Murray, novelist, University of Massachusetts. Novelising T.E. Lawrence [title tbc]

12:30-1:30pm Lunch, including a chance to view the “Writing Lawrence” exhibition in Magdalen College’s Old Library.

1:30-3:10. Panel Two: Lawrence and the Art of Biography

Michael Korda, author of Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia. “Mirror Image: T.E. Lawrence and his Biographers and Interpreters”

Scott Anderson, author of Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Middle East. “‘Discovering Lawrence’: A Tale in Three Documents”

Adam Fraser, archaeologist and heritage consultant. “Lawrence’s Escape from the Cretan Labyrinth”.

3:10-3:30 Break

3:30-4:50 Panel Three: Writing Lawrence and his Friends

Alexander Maitland, biographer of Wilfred Thesiger. “T.E. Lawrence and Wilfred Thesiger”

Dr Helen Smith, Honorary Lecturer, University of East Anglia. “Giving Yourself Away: T.E. Lawrence and Edward Garnett”.

Ian Johnson, University of Newcastle Archives. “Challenging Legacies: Curating the Gertrude Bell Archive”.

4:50-5:50 Panel Four: Lawrence on the Borders of Biography and Fiction

Ned Wolfe, cartoonist. “Drawing TE Lawrence’s life: A cartoonist’s journey in biography”

Jan Woolf, playwright. “Blood. Gold and Oil – digging a play out of the desert: A personal and political excavation of Lawrence  for the 20th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq”.