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Harry St. John Bridger Philby Collection

Identifier: GTM-GAMMS311

Collection-level Scope and Content Note

In addition to the Arabia and The Empty Quarter materials, the Harry St. John Bridger Philby Collection contains two annotated carbon manuscripts of "The Background of Islam: Being a Sketch of Arabian History in pre-Islamic Times."


  • 1925 - 1947
  • Majority of material found within 1928 - 1933

Collection-level Access Restrictions

Most manuscripts collections at the Georgetown University Booth Family Center for Special Collections are open to researchers; however, restrictions may apply to some collections. Collections stored off site require a minimum of three days for retrieval. For use of all manuscripts collections, researchers are advised to contact the Booth Family Center for Special Collections in advance of any visit.

Biographical Note

Harry St. John Bridger Philby (1885-1960), explorer and Arabist, graduated from Westminster and Oxford before joining the Indian Civil Service in 1907. As a talented linguist he was assigned as assistant political officer to the Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force in Basra and Bagdad from 1915 to 1917. Philby met Abdul Aziz ibn Saud when on a mission to Riyadh in 1917. Upon completion of the mission Philby made the first east-west sea-to-sea crossing of Arabia with ibn Saud's escorts. His subsequent crossing of the Rub' al-Khali in 1932 formed the material for The Empty Quarter, of which 74 pages are contained in this collection.

In 1925 Philby resigned from the Indian Civil service and spent the duration of the next 30 years in Arabia as unofficial advisor to King ibn Saud. He set up a business, Sharquieh Ltd., in Jedda. Philby spent much time exploring Arabia with the support of the king. A talented cartographer, botanist and archeologist, his numerous publications contributed significantly to the English speaking world's understanding of the geography, history and people of Arabia. In 1930, the same year he converted to Islam, his modern history (1703-1924) of the Wahabi movement and empires, Arabia, was published. Exiled by the new king, Saud ibn Abdul Aziz, in 1955 due to his sharp criticism of ruling policy, he moved to Beirut for the last 5 years of his life, completing his memoirs.

For further biographical information, consult the "Dictionary of National Biography" (1951-1960), Elizabeth Monroe's "Philby of Arabia" (1973) and Anthony Cave Brown's "Treason in the Blood: H. St. John Philby, Kim Philby and the Spy Case of the Century" (1994).


1 Linear Feet (2 boxes)

Language of Materials


Harry St. John Bridger Philby Collection
Georgetown University Library Booth Family Center for Special Collections
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Georgetown University Manuscripts Repository

Lauinger Library, 5th Floor
37th and O Streets, N.W.
Washington DC 20057