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Unruly Notes from readings for an independent study

March 19, 2010

UPDATE: When I started making these notes, I have not yet read the catalogue (a rather hefty tome) depicting the showcasing of watercolours done by David Roberts. The very containment of his work is controversial because of certain accusations of cultural imperialisma and impositiong upon the Land of Palestine, the nostalgia for Biblical Times (those halcyon days of “purity” before the more presentist “degeneration”) that seeks to erase the presence and habitation of current day (not too current as the watercolors were done more than a century ago) Palestinians in all their “degenerate” conditions. The articles accompanying the catalogue, written by scholars and a reverend, provide a glimpse into the cultural and political history during which the paintings were made. One can see a copy of it at the Nasher Museum here at Duke. His work is part of the Nasher Museum’s permanent collection. The collection and also catalogue merits a study by those interested in imperial fantasy, colonialism and religious affect.
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I find it interesting to read about the history of ‘Biblical studies” within the topography of the Holy Land through Burke O Long’s “Imagining the Holy Land: Maps, Models and Fantasy Travels” and the piece on “Bible and Archaeology” by Eric Meyers that can be found in the Harper Collins Student Bible after having visited the American School of Oriental Research archives at the Boston University, because that made visible many of the cultural tropes inextricably bound to ‘Biblical’ archaeology, with a bit of anthropology thrown in, and then theological studies. At the archives, when looking at the hitherto unseen collection of photographs of the Eastern part of Jerusalem taken by the Beirut-based photographer, Tancrede Dumas, one is as much intrigue by the inscriptions at the back some, some perhaps made by Dumas himself, and some by later hands. There are different layers of stories that can be told through the inscriptions. Some were matter-of-fact descriptions of the physical locale and artifact, whereas some others look like attempts at forming a narrative in a way not too different from that described and explicated by Long. In the process of making the photographs, Dumas did not attempt to erase from the images, the existence of Arab-looking subjects who were posing in the photographs. They were ostensibly either locals who were curious at seeing what Dumas was up to, or guides hired by Dumas to help him access some of these artifacts. It is also interesting to link this site to Long’s foregrounding of the attitudes of the American “Holy Land” scholars, preachers, and advocates as they try to explain away or play down the existence of the indigenous Arabs, particularly that of the woman.

Perhaps I should begin by talking about Long’s book, which for me, is divided (non-physically) into three sections, with the third section somewhat overlapping. The story of course began sometime in the nineteenth century, when lay pastors, academically trained theologians and other devout men with interest in the ‘souls’ and spiritual edification of the people decided to get together to establish a commune and a cause that would not only reify the religious zeal that have brought their ancestors to America but imprint within the American memory their ‘privileged’ position as continuing on the ‘tradition’ begun in two thousand years ago in the land of Palestine, being the land of the blessed. And one must not forget that such belief is also brought over to the other parts of the world by American missionaries to the non-American communities they evangelize to.

The first section of the book talks about the Chautauqua Institute and versions of them, and the world that went on behind that. There is a mixture of dramatic showmanship, the PT Barnum act as well as serious Biblical education that goes on in this mix (I would really be interested in reading about the various publications that came out of this Institute, their publication history and the publishing and distribution process of their tracts and materials to the members of their Institute and the community at large). Perhaps here one can advance the ‘false consciousness’ theory about a desire for something that is built out of the retelling of tales of adventures and the ‘picturesques’ descriptions of those who had wandered the Palestinian/Canaan’s land. The second section talks about the pilgrimage/invasion into the Holy Land by those who could, and the ‘parlour’ tours by those who could not make it to the ‘real’ Palestine. I really liked the two titles in chapters 2 and 2, where Long talked about “Stripped and Starred Holy Land” as an euphemistic allusion to the imposition of ‘American values’ into the ‘Biblical world’ of Palestine and then the use of advancement in entertainment technology to create a ‘virtual’ diorama of the land based on paintings and such. I also find the section devoted to description and analysis of the American explorers/pilgrims attitude to the local women to be interesting, and begs for more interesting exploration (now I worry I may end up with another paper topic idea that I am not sure if I should even think of exploring at this point, which is “Gender politics and American tours to the Holy Land from the 19th century to before World War II”). It is also interesting that, other than the discussion on Lydia Mamreoff von Finkelstein, there was not more discussion of prominent women involved with the work of “Americanizing” (I hesitate to use such a verb but this will do for now) of Palestine, or at least making Palestine ‘sensible’ to the mostly provincial American audience of that period. Also, the sort of tours conducted under the American auspice were certainly reminiscent of the same set of tours El-Haj talks about in her Facts on the Ground book in relation to the tours conducted in Israeli museums, some of which are sitting on former excavation sites. Then the third section (that also overlaps with the second section, since I see a sort of contiguous development between the work of people like Kent and Hurlbut to that of ASOR and later schools and institutes of oriental research focusing on excavations and related activities in Palestine) begins a narration into the work of Albright, the Albrightians and also his contemporaries. From the explication, it would seem as if theology plays a major role in influencing the attitudes and mindset of the Biblical scholars approach to archaeological excavations in the Middle East. Unfortunately, most of the Albright papers I managed to quickly looked through were dealing more with the exigencies of administrative issues pertaining to the governance of their school and its branches, as well as later work on the Dead Sea Scrolls (not mentioned in Long’s book, even though he did talk about the cartographical work that is also an outgrowth of archaeological interests). I am glad he brought up the case of Margolis as a way of juxtaposing a Semitic interest with the Christian Bible interest in the recuperation of the Holy Land, though we don’t quite see how it all played out in the end.

The part not covered in Long’s book that I would be interested in exploring further, to forward the interest of my proposed paper (under the umbrella of the history of the book but relating back to the cultural history of the impact of the ‘Holy Land’ on the American imagination and the impact of the American evangelical/moralizing zeal on the popular reproduction of the “Holy Land”), would be on tracing the publications that come out of such large religion-motivated enterprises (perhaps taking a look at Frank Bray’s Reading Journey through Chautauqua and the reading habits of the religious public whose imagination are captivated by the sort of work going on in the Chautauqua Institute. In the process of explicating such a work, I could perhaps try to tease out the gender issues involved in light of Long’s articulation of the ‘white man’s’ reaction to the Oriental Arabic women in “Parlor Tours and the Holy Land,” especially about the women in Amwas. Long didn’t allude much to scholarship that has grown up around this area in postcolonial feminist studies (even Spivak talks about this in “Can the Subaltern Speak?” but he may not be familiar with that genre).

I think much of the materials brought up by Long could be subject to further scrutinization through the use of cultural theories. It would be interesting to see the connection between the Disney-style (or Las Vegas style?) theme parks, popular reading materials and the tourist-pilgrim tours during the time of increasing conspicuous consumption.

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