Freya Stark: A Study of Travel, Gender, and Empire in the Middle East from 1932-1950

Open Access
Lotito, Lisa
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Janina M Safran, Thesis Supervisor
  • Catherine Wanner, Honors Advisor
  • travel
  • gender
  • empire
  • Middle East
  • imperialism
  • Freya Stark
Dame Freya Stark traveled to the Middle East and published The Valleys of the Assassins, The Southern Gates of Arabia, Baghdad Sketches, and East is West from 1932 until 1950, the year she penned the first volume of her autobiography. This thesis evaluates her travel writings for the way Stark employs travel, gender, and Empire in constructing her identity, the identity of both the British and Arabs with whom she comes into contact, and the larger relationships of the British Empire to the Middle East. Prior to 1932, Stark published an article entitled Women and the Service of the Empire. Shortly after she published this article, Freya received the prestigious Back Grant from the Royal Geographical Society and began a book deal with John Murray Publishers. From then on, Stark published thirty-two works for the British public about her travels. This thesis argues that prior to her fame, Freya viewed British women as a potential asset to the Empire because of their ability to aid in the relationship between the British and those they colonized. However, as Freya traveled, her conceptions of gender and Empire evolved. By her final book, East is West, Stark moves from advocating women in the service of the Empire to demonstrating her own exceptional service. As Stark’s conceptions of gender and Empire evolve, so too does her own identity. Stark serves the Empire not only by mapping its lands but by mapping its people, whether by meeting with heads of various Arab tribes and spreading pro- British World War II propaganda or convincing Arab wives to convince their husbands to ally with the Empire. Stark comes to portray herself to British readership as a servant to an empire that depends upon her to maintain its marriage to the East. Viewing how Stark traveled and portrayed this travel to the British public instead of analyzing the reasons why she traveled marks a break in traditional interpretations of her life and work. Tracing Stark’s construction of her own identity as a traveler and a servant to the Empire helps illuminate the constructed nature of imperialism itself.