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Traveling Orientalism: U.S. Echoes of a French Tradition

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Abstract

The dizzying grandeur and sheer magnitude of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago only hints at the amount of time and resources spent on its construction. Even so, it is not the physical structure but rather the ideological scaffolding behind the fair design that proves the most intricate, particularly in terms of the way it both reflected and helped shape mainstream U.S. attitudes at the turn of the twentieth century. The Columbian Exposition (another title for the Chicago World’s Fair), a meticulously planned and painstakingly conceived articulation of U.S. progress, aimed to mark the development of the burgeoning “western” power since the arrival of Christopher Columbus on American soil 400 years earlier. However, as the remarks of James Buel indicate, fair organizers positioned that version of progress in relation to a constructed binary of advanced (colonial) powers and primitive (colonized) peoples, the latter to serve as a benchmark against which progress would be measured. The overwhelming message of progress, packaged and presented by fair designers, seemed a benign and straightforward one meant to mark the U.S. path toward technological advancement. As evidenced by the built-in reference to Columbus, the rhetoric of progress also cloaked expansionist and imperialist goals of the United States as an empire-building nation.

Keywords

Middle East Landscape Painting Arab Womanhood French Colonial Racial Hierarchy 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
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  3. 3.
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    Sargent’s commissioned portrait, entitled Almina, Daughter of Asher Wertheimer, also references Ingres’s work. In the portrait, Almina is wearing “an ivory-white Persian costume and a turban entwined with pearls” and is holding a “sarod”, a musical instrument from northern India, which was owned by the artist (Ibid., 169). In this respect, she resembles the “slave” in Ingres’s Odalisque with a Slave. Google Scholar
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    Even so, the painting did not necessarily have as many viewers at the World’s Fair as his other submissions since it was hung on the second floor of the Fine Arts building (Carr, “Prejudice and Pride,” 96). Its position on the second floor does speak to the strict moral codes of the Victorian Era in the United States. However, the fact that it was displayed at all during this time period corroborates my claim that the Egyptian girl’s body was not viewed in the same way that an American or European woman’s body would be.Google Scholar
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    For more on nineteenth-century “Holy Land mania,” see Obenzinger, American Palestine. Google Scholar
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    See Smith, Virgin Land for more on the way the notion of the virgin land operated as a sustaining myth in the formation of U.S. national identity.Google Scholar
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    Boime, The Magisterial Gaze. See also Miller, Empire of the Eye for an argument about American landscape painting as an expression of U.S. imperialism. Finally see Mitchell’s Landscape and Power for a broader consideration of the intersection of landscape with power dynamics.Google Scholar
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    Boime, The Magisterial Gaze, 84.Google Scholar
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    Vogel, To See a Promised Land and Davis, Landscape of Belief. Google Scholar
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    Fairbrother, John Singer Sargent, 104.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 29.Google Scholar
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    In fact, one of Sargent’s most famous Orientalist paintings is Fumee DAmber Gris (Ambergris Smoke), which helped to launch his career. Noted for its expression of the mystery and sensuality of the Orient, Sargent’s representation of this “stately Mohameddan” (quoted in Edwards, Noble Dreams, Wicked Pleasures, 135) parallels orientalist themes that capitalize on the luxuriant and opulent eroticism of the Middle East, especially because of the aphrodisiac qualities and monetary value of ambergris (whale blubber) itself.Google Scholar
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    For more on the parallels between indigenous Americans and Palestinians, see Salaita, The Holy Land in Transit. Google Scholar
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    I am referencing P. Miller’s Errand Into the Wilderness, which itself references Danforth’s 1670 jeremiad: “A Brief Recognition of NewEnglands [sic] Errand Into the Wilderness.”Google Scholar
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    Said, “Traveling Theory,” 227.Google Scholar

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© Amira Jarmakani 2008

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