History of Science Museum: Collection Database Search

Narratives

Special project: Out in Oxford 2017 – an LGBTQ+ collections trail (T.E. Lawrence’s camera)

About the project
This cross-collections trail featuring the gardens, libraries and museums at the University of Oxford is the result of ‘Celebrating Diversity’, a project funded by Arts Council England and created with the local LGBTQ+ community. Volunteers who identified as LGBTQ+ or as allies were involved writing the interpretations. These interpretations were created to celebrate diversity and highlight LGBTQ+ experiences.

TE Lawrence’s camera (Inv. 21126)
TE Lawrence (1888-1935), better known as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, specially commissioned this camera for use as an archaeologist in the Middle East. Lawrence’s sexuality has been disputed since 1955, when biographer Richard Aldington suggested that he was homosexual, an assertion denied by Lawrence’s friends and family. This debate raises important questions about the purpose of LGBTQ+ history – can individuals be categorised as LGBTQ+ when they did not openly identify as such and past understandings of sexuality were very different? TE Lawrence’s case is further complicated by his assertion that in 1916 he was sexually assaulted by Turkish soldiers. The taboo surrounding same-sex rape and ideas about ‘emasculation’ could be one reason behind suspicions that Lawrence was gay. Some readers have interpreted his description of the event as homo-erotic, but this and subsequent behaviours could alternatively be symptomatic of post-traumatic stress disorder. It has also been argued that Lawrence was asexual as he declared in multiple letters that he had not had any sexual relationships; however, celibacy was not unusual amongst upper-class intellectuals at this time.
Written by Martha Robinson Rhodes

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