A Contact Threesome: Americans, Arabs, and Imperialists

by Henry Grey Gorman

Institution: Vanderbilt University
Department: History
Degree: MA
Year: 2015
Keywords: Middle East; Levant; Empire; Orientalism; Missionaries; Pilgrimage; Science; Travel Writing; American Board for the Commission of Foreign Missions; ABCFM; Beirut; Jerusalem; Protestants; Cosmology; Lebanon
Record ID: 2058123
Full text PDF: http://etd.library.vanderbilt.edu/available/etd-03232015-131711/


This paper explores how encounters with European empire shaped American missionary and travel writing about the Middle East in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I break with the way that scholars in the humanities, and historians of Americans in the Middle East in particular, talk about intercultural contact. Most just narrate exchanges between Americans and their Others, ignoring the context that made those interactions possible. Post-spatial turn scholars have contextualized cultural exchanges in spaces like Mary Louise Pratt's contact zone. However, they usually focus on hetero interactions within those zones – those between the visitor and the Other. But American travelers visited places inhabited by people who they identified with – like European imperialists – as well as Others. The imperial power relationships within those places shaped Americans' experiences. I queer Pratt's contact zone and examine how homo interactions – between visitors and people they identified with – mediated contact. Imperial threesomes produced Americans' experiences in areas dominated by European empires. Exchanging a binary model of encounter for a triangular one, I explore the ways that imperial power relations shaped American Protestants' pilgrimages and missions in the Middle East.