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Panel II: Imperial Perceptions of the Middle East

9:30 am – 10:55 am
Smith Memorial Student Union, room 238

Faculty Discussant: Patricia Goldsworthy-Bishop, Western Oregon University, Assistant Professor of Transnational European and Middle East/North African History

Student Presenters:

  • Robin Bunton, University of British Columbia, Visual Politics: Photographing Eastern Harems and the European Cultural Imagination
    + view abstract
    For centuries, the European cultural imagination has visually defined, and heavily romanticized, the illusory space of Eastern harems through music, literature, and art. Between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the eroticism associated with harems captivated the minds of many famous painters across the continent, who frequently reproduced this mythical space in their art. Nearly all of the European artists painting harems during this period replicated scenes of the harem with exceptionally similar likeness and only slight variation, thus contributing to Western audiences’ historical familiarity with these exaggerated representations. Due to the increasing accessibility and portability of photographic equipment throughout this same period, some Europeans began capturing images of the erotic Orient on film. This paper will look at visual examples of the harem within the Orientalist photography of Hippolyte Arnoux, a Frenchman whose images are primarily from the mid to late 19th century, in comparison with that of Gertrude Bell, a British woman who captured photos of harems just before the beginning of the First World War in 1914. This paper will be particularly interested in the political nature of photographic imagery within the contexts of Victorian feminism, sexuality, and imperialism. By exploring how Bell and Arnoux’s Victorian ideologies were related to these themes, this paper will seek to further understand the complex relationship between photographers, photographic subjects, and the historical conditions of the times in which they were situated. In particular, this paper will argue that the ways in which predominant Victorian values and beliefs were varyingly internalized and reacted to by Arnoux and Bell, can be heavily implicated in the establishment of vast discrepancies between each photographer’s visual construction of harem images.
  • Melinda Cohoon, Portland State University, The Imperial Agenda and Oil Concessions Concerning the Iraqi Railways: From Baghdad to Kirkuk, 1920-1929
    + view abstract
    Much of the wisdom written on the subject of Iraqi railways confides in the German owned Baghdad railways, as noted in Sean McMeekin’s The Berlin-Baghdad Express: The Ottoman Empire and Germany’s Bid for World Power (2010). As a result, there is a need within the academic literature regarding British controlled Iraqi railways and the correlation of concessions to various oil companies during the 1920s. This study has also found that the U.S. had a covert interest in the shaping of the Iraqi nation, while most research has focused on the British imperial agenda concerning the railways. Using the Records of Department of State Relating to the Internal Affairs of Asia, 1910-1929 along with integral secondary source material like Peter Sluglett’s Britain in Iraq: Contriving King and Country (2007, 2nd ed.), this study addresses both a wide variety of identities such as the intellectuals and elite, and Bedouin tribes and Kurds within the Iraqi nation, who were embedded within this new imperial reality, and the U.S. interests in oil concessions. The methodology employed within this research project consists of both the imperialist agenda of Britain and the U.S. embryonic interests in Iraq, while conveying the consciousness of those imperialized and/or colonized. Therefore, this had implicated that there was a lack of sectarian violence prior to the creation of Iraq, and as such, there were new ethnic identities and nationalisms that resulted from its creation that were inherently influenced by the prospects of oil and the extension of railways throughout Iraq.
  • Derek Harvey, Oregon State University, Victorian Newspapers: The Death of General Gordon and the Revival of Imperialism
    + view abstract
    The term yellow journalism is often tied to American newspapers at the end of the 19th century that pushed for a war with Spain; however, it was not the first time that mass media had been used to drum up support for an imperialist war. In the early 1880’s British newspapers were in a media frenzy following the story of General Charles Gordon who had been sent to Sudan to lead the evacuation of British troops from the region which had fallen to rebel Mahdist forces. Yet, shortly after taking charge of the city of Khartoum, the city was besieged. In an effort to sell newspapers, the British media began running whatever stories were relatable to the besieged hero as his name alone sold could sell whatever it was attached to. By late 1884 liberal Prime Minister Gladstone, who had been reluctant to become more deeply involved in Egypt, gave into the public’s demands for a rescue expedition of General Gordon. Only a couple months later in 1885, just two days before reinforcements arrived, Khartoum was overtaken and General Gordon killed. The fall of the national hero saturated the British culture through newspapers, paintings, and songs, all of which helped propel British Imperialists once more to the foreground. Newfound support for imperialism and the public’s demand for retribution, fed by capitalists eager to sell newspapers, all but guaranteed British involvement in Egypt and Sudan until the conclusion of the Mahdist War in 1898.
  • Nathan Vest, University of Texas at Austin, A Liberty Loving People : Developing an American Identity during the Barbary Wars, 1785-1805  
    + view abstract
     The Barbary crises, 1785 to 1805, were the earliest interactions between a Muslim political entity and the fledgling United States. These twenty years of conflict catalyzed the development of an American navy, centralization of the federal government and the establishment of American commerce in the Mediterranean and Atlantic world. Additionally, this period of conflict and crisis also served as one of inward reflection and identity development for the American people. Harnessing Barbary captivity as a screen through which they could contemplate the real-life application of Revolutionary principles such as life, liberty and other unalienable rights, American writers produced a body of captivity literature the exuded various interpretations of a national sense-of-self. Proliferating these conceptualizations of nationhood and identity through American printed media, these American writers utilized their North African adversaries as a mirror in an attempt to observe, define and reflect on themselves and their countrymen.

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