Several years ago, I made a trip to Hay-on-Wye. It was the town of my book-loving dreams, and I brought back a tidy pile of volumes. I’m certainly not the first person to wax lyrical about second-hand books, but I’ve always had a weakness for them, something about the smell and the fragility appeals to me. You’re touching history when you touch them, smelling the passage of time as you smell them. And it’s even better when you find an unexpected bit of ephemera inside – a postcard, a receipt, a bit of someone else’s reading experience.
On this trip to Hay I came home with a very special book. I was then in the throes of my PhD research, part of which explored the networks of British archaeologists working in Mandate Palestine. I was interested in the relationships between archaeologists and political figures who could and did play a critical (though now often invisible) role in facilitating and supporting archaeology.
Ronald Storrs was one of these officials, serving as Military and then Civil Governor of Jerusalem from 1917 to 1926. The book was Ronald Storrs’ autobiography, Orientations, in its so-called “Definitive Edition”. Pasted carefully on the reverse of the title page was a letter from Storrs to an unknown recipient and Storrs’ book-plate on the page opposite.
In Orientations, Storrs crafts a fascinating glimpse into English officialdom the Middle East before, during and after the First World War. His personality and obvious sense of self-worth stream steadily through his prose. His preface is particularly telling – warning readers that the majority of his personal papers were lost in a fire in 1931**, he gets around this hole in his own archive by pointing out that fortunately there were alternate materials he could draw on to chart his life journey. The text that follows is a curious mix of narrative and quotations from home correspondence, press clippings, telegrams, government papers, even personal recollections translated by Storrs from Arabic.
During wartime, Storrs was associated with the Arab Bureau; amongst its staff were the archaeologists T. E. Lawrence and D. G. Hogarth. A good friend to the legendary Lawrence, Storrs played his own role in the Arab Revolt. When he became Military Governor of Jerusalem in 1917, he was one among a number of British officials (and archaeologists) who shifted literally and figuratively from an Egyptian context to a Palestinian one.
Storrs is most associated with the planning and restoration of Jerusalem’s Old City, enacting strict legislation to ‘preserve’ the historic heart of what he called “a City of invincible and unutterable attraction” to a very particular vision. The Pro-Jerusalem Society, founded on Storrs’ instigation, has been the subject of recent scholarship on the modern history of the city. Although when I went to Jerusalem I was at the beginning of my research and unaware of Storrs and the PJS’s impact on the Old City, I think much of their vision still remains relevant in preservation initiatives today.
Shalev-Khalifa, N. ed. 2010. The First Governor: Sir Ronald Storrs, Governor of Jerusalem 1918–1926. Tel Aviv, Israel: Eretz Museum.
Storrs, R. 1949. Orientations. (Definitive Edition). London: Nicholson & Watson.
Thornton, A. 2012. Tents, Tours and Treks: Archaeologists, Antiquities Services and Tourism in Mandate Palestine and Transjordan. Public Archaeology 11 (4): 195-216.
Wharton, A. 2006. Selling Jerusalem: Relics, Replicas, Theme Parks. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Wharton, A. 2008. Jerusalem Remade. In: S. Isenstadt and R. Kishwar eds. Modernism and the Middle East: Architecture and Politics in the Twentieth Century. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, pp. 39–60.
* Tel Aviv’s Eretz Israel Museum held an exhibition about Storrs, his work in Jerusalem and his relationship to the various communities of the city. “The First Governor” was open from October 2010 to August 2011. A review of the exhibition can be found here.
** This fire occurred while Storrs was Governor of Cyprus; he discusses the context of the fire further in Orientations.
CITATION INFO: Thornton, A. 2015. Finding Ronald Storrs. Reading Room Notes [Blog]. 28 April. [Online]. www.readingroomnotes.com/home/finding-ronald-storrs.