Magdalen College has recently acquired the archive of T.E. Lawrence’s authorised biographer, opening up a vast and eclectic collection of fifty years of research material for the first time!
The Jeremy Wilson Archive is an exciting new addition to Magdalen College’s Lawrence collections, and promises to open up a huge range of previously unseen research material to the public. In April 2020, a three-year project began to catalogue the research archive of Jeremy Wilson, lead by Project Archivist Dr Lucy Smith.
Magdalen College was fortunate to be able to acquire the Jeremy Wilson Archive in 2018 from Wilson’s widow and publishing partner, Nicole Wilson, through funding from the Harry and Alice Stillman Foundation.
Who was Jeremy Wilson?
Jeremy Wilson (1944-2017) was the authorised biographer of T.E. Lawrence, and spent fifty years of his life researching exhaustively into every aspect of Lawrence’s life.
After studying at Balliol College and the London School of Economics, Wilson developed an interest in T.E. Lawrence through his research into international relations in the Middle East. He became part of the Lawrence research world when he was chosen to help list the Lawrence collections in the Bodleian Library which were then under strict embargo. Having gained this detailed background knowledge, he was chosen in 1971 to edit Minorities, Lawrence’s commonplace book of favourite poems. He was subsequently appointed Lawrence’s authorised biographer in 1975, with the blessing of A.W. Lawrence, T.E.’s younger brother. The two men were frequently in contact and the collection includes their long-standing correspondence from the late 1960s until A.W. Lawrence’s death in 1991. In 1989, after 14 years of dedicated work, Wilson produced his landmark biography Lawrence of Arabia to great acclaim. It was named one of the best books of 1990 by the New York Times Review of Books. Not content with this, he spent a further 20 years publishing editions of Lawrence’s letters through his own specialist publishers, the Castle Hill Press, which he ran with his wife Nicole Wilson. He also served as the Chairman of the T.E. Lawrence Society from 1990-1994 and was instrumental in setting up the Journal of the T.E. Lawrence Society.
Jeremy Wilson was also a book collector and trader throughout his life, and shared a keen interest in fine letterpress printing with his famous subject. He spoke at many public events and conferences and was consultant on a number of major exhibitions on T.E. Lawrence, including the centenary exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in 1988, and a major exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in 2005.
Outside of Lawrence research, Wilson worked on the official history of the Channel Tunnel, and as a writer for international business. He had a keen interest in sailing and was a member of the Royal Lymington Yacht Club.
Wilson collected a vast archive of material throughout his fifty years of research, as well as acquiring the collections of his fellow researchers. This adds up to a monumental collection on T.E. Lawrence that promises to open up exciting new paths of enquiry to Lawrence researchers, as well as acting as a record of the practices of a meticulous biographer.
Scroll down the page to find out what’s in the collection and how to find out more!
What’s in the Jeremy Wilson Archive?
The collection ranges from drafts of Wilson’s publications and facsimiles of archival documents covering Lawrence’s every move and his political and cultural context, to a miscellaneous mix of ephemera, articles, and even original material from Lawrence’s lifetime, and anything and everything in between!
The task is gargantuan in scale, but as cataloguing progresses, the collection offers constant surprises on all aspects of Lawrence’s life and work, as well as the world of Lawrence research itself. Lawrence’s myriad interests mean that the subject material itself covers a vast array of ground from fine press printing to guerrilla warfare, and from archaeology to motorboats.
The Jeremy Wilson Archive is also one of the first personal collections at Magdalen College Archives to include extensive digital material. Wilson was at the forefront of digital innovations as his career progressed, running a lively email list and a T.E. Lawrence website, as well as keeping digital copies of drafts, photographs and facsimiles of archive material.
The collection will reflect the changing processes of writing history from the 1960s to the 2010s. The final catalogue will combine physical and digital collections including website material, and digitised video and audio files dating back to the 1960s, reflecting the hybrid nature of Wilson’s working practices.
Who is represented in the collection?
The collection is representative not only of the lives of two men, T.E. Lawrence and Jeremy Wilson, but also of the diversity of Lawrence’s cultural world from British writers to Arab Revolt fighters and from archaeologists to political players in the formation of the Middle East.
The archive also offers an insight into the history of T.E. Lawrence research, representing passionate fans of the 1962 film, devoted amateur researchers, Wilson’s many hard-working assistants, and scholarly historians of the Middle East. Whilst the archive represents one man’s lifetime of research, it also explores a huge range of perspectives on T.E. Lawrence from male and female researchers, and across cultures and nationalities.
Explore the Jeremy Wilson Archive
The Jeremy Wilson Archive is still in the process of being catalogued but you can keep up-to-date with the project by visiting our blog (see tab at top of screen), subscribing to our mailing list (sign up at the bottom of the screen), or for the very latest updates, follow us on Twitter at @ArchiveWilson and via this link: Jeremy Wilson Archive (@ArchiveWilson) / Twitter
The catalogue is currently in development, but a basic version can be seen at:
We are holding a one-day conference to celebrate the cataloguing of the Wilson Archive on 31st August 2023 at Magdalen College. The conference is entitled “Writing Lawrence and his World: Jeremy Wilson and the Art/Science of Biography” and will feature a keynote address from Sabina Murray, award-winning novelist and former Visiting Fellow at Magdalen about her new novel featuring T.E. Lawrence. For more details and to book your free place, please click here to go to our blog.