FAR EAST MOVEMENT: PHOTOGRAPHS OF RUSSIA, ASIA AND INDIA FROM THE WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY.

In addition to providing researchers with access to its rare book and special collections library and museum, The Wolfsonian-FIU invites scholars from around the world to apply for residential fellowships that include a stipend, a place to stay, and a month long opportunity to peruse and use our collections for their own independent research projects. Dr. Margaret Dikovitskaya has been spending a great deal of time in our research library comparing the ways in which Czarist Russia represented the peoples of its borderlands to the ways that other imperial powers depicted the ethnic minorities and colonial peoples of their colonial empires. In this project, Dr. Dikovitskaya has been able to tap the expertise of the library staff and to make use of a virtual display of a library exhibit from 2006 which I created for my own Florida International University class on Comparative Colonialism. Dr. Dikovitskaya has also been working closely with Sharf Associate Librarian Rochelle Pienn and with some of the rare and unique photograph albums of the Northwest frontier (India and Pakistan) and the Far East that were recently donated to us by scholar, collector, and benefactor, Frederic A. Sharf.  Here is her report.

Currently at the Wolfsonian library, we are honored to host Dr. Margaret Dikovitskaya, our visiting Wolfsonian Fellow and scholar. She recently consulted some intriguing items I cataloged from the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection.

Dr. Dikovitskaya shows dynamic enthusiasm in her desire to analyze photographs from the early 1900s in the context of visual culture. Her vast knowledge of this period of colonialism, her emphasis on Russia and the Far East, and her attention to historical clues in enigmatic photographs all contribute to uncovering the beauty and meaning of rare books and photo albums in the collection. Below are a few of the items she explored in her research.

In The Coming Struggle in Eastern Asia (London: Macmillan and Co., 1908), author B. L. Putnam Weale addresses the colonial British view of the “problem” of China, Russia and Japan. Their political, social and economic cultural clashes impact Great Britain’s position as an imperial power on the global stage.

The caption here reads “Typical Russians at a Typical Station.” Broad, stereotypical comments contemplating racial determinism pepper the text. The author ruminates, “The saying which still obtains in some countries that you have but to scratch the Russian to find the Tartar may be true in some senses; but it is meant to imply that the Russian is a semi-Asiatic …”

Here the author presents more “Types in the Primorsk: A Northern Chinaman in the foreground; the rest Russians.”

The British interest in the Far East became especially keen when military conflict ensued. Below are “A party of Old-Type Manchurian soldiers in Heilungchiang Province.”

The author says, “The real re-conquest of the country is not being effected [sic] by the Russian railway for the benefit of Russians, but is slowly being brought about by the indirect agency of that railway for the direct benefit of the Chinese—a very different thing.”

With the violent First Sino-Japanese War, The Boxer Rebellion and the Russo-Japanese War still fresh in recent memory, the characteristic divides between cultures are still prominent red flags for the ever-involved imperial powers.

The author laments, “ … in Korea and Southern Manchuria … Japan is relentlessly pursuing a definite policy, of which, in spite of the fact that its basic principles are supposed to be ‘open door’ and ‘equal opportunity for all,’ the only concrete results are a disheartening decline in European and American interests …”

At the end of the volume is a magnificent color map of Northern Asia in pristine condition.

The Western fascination with the Orient continued to build. Elizabeth Kendall’s A Wayfarer in China: Impressions of a Trip Across West China and Mongolia (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913) takes the reader along on an educated woman’s extensive trip through today’s Northern Vietnam, China, Mongolia, the Gobi desert, and Siberia.

Ms. Kendall’s genuine curiosity results in a guileless account of the local people. During a particularly grueling hike through China’s Anning Valley, she insists on photographing “Lolos,” or merchant guards of the wilderness. She writes with admiration, “Their independent bearing and bold, free look interested me”

Ms. Kendall expresses less enthusiasm for wandering natives of Tibet. She says, “I must confess I was disappointed … I did not find them attractive … Never have I seen men of more vicious expression …”

Later she discusses the possible appeal of Lamaism, or the Tibetan Buddhist population making a mark in Mongolia.

“It is said that the Chinese government has encouraged Lamaism with the idea of keeping down the population; in this way it would avert the danger of Mongol invasion. But Lamaism has already done that in another way, by killing the vigour and warlike temper of the people.”

North to the Siberian railway Ms. Kendall meets up with a Lama and his wife, wherein the cultural clash between the Westerners, the Russian mainlanders and Lamas begins to take its toll on the company’s travels:

“The people had objected the night before to our camping near the yurts, for it was their hayfield, theirs by the custom which forbids encroaching on the land near a settlement, but the Russians had persisted, and now, in their helpless anger,–they were an aged lama and an old woman,–they refused to sell us wood.”

British colonialism extended into India and the Northwest Passage. Before World War II, British military training camps set up in these exotic locales. An original photograph album of the Foster family living in Banda, Uttar Pradesh contains priceless images of life in this region during the 1920s.

The family’s experience begins in Punjab, Pakistan.

In contrast, holidays in England are highlighted with group picnics in the British countryside. The “Me” in the first photograph is Daphne, Rodney Foster’s daughter.

Back in Daltanganj, India, life is more rustic.

The family’s love for their pets comes through in these affecting images of dog “Rolly” and cat “Smutty” in 1928 Musoorie, India.

Typical tourist captures document the family’s time in Mandalay, Burma.

The Western cultural view of the East during colonialism can be discerned visually through the photographs in these and many more rare books and original albums from the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection.

~ by "The Chief" on May 15, 2012.

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