Cultural Tourism through the Lens of the Stereoscope: Underwood & Underwood’s 1905 Egypt Boxed Stereoview Set Considered [EN]

Seth Thompson

 

In nineteenth- and early twentieth-century, the stereoscope enabled people to see the familiar and the
faraway—imagining life outside of their communities—exploring distant places and cultures. While
stereoviews may depict foreign places, it can be argued that the content displayed within the stereoview is
reflective of the values and interests of the time and place for which it was produced.
Underwood and Underwood, an American stereoview publishing company founded in 1882, introduced
stereoview boxed sets, which included an accompanying book and set of maps to enhance one’s learning
experience. These boxed stereoview sets provided virtual tours of such countries as Italy, England, Greece,
India, and France. Underwood and Underwood’s 1905 Egypt Boxed Stereoview Set follows suit, consisting of
one hundred stereoviews, an accompanying book and maps to educate its users on “the customs, history and
monuments of the ancient Egyptians.”

The production, marketing and consumption of this Egypt boxed stereoview set raises interesting questions
such as: how does one order and assess the unfamiliar and how does personal and collective memory inform
the gaze as an interpretive lens? Offering insight into the notion of the gaze as an optic through which people
understand and interpret the world around them, sociologist John Urry’s concept of the “tourist gaze” is a
fitting portal to deconstruct the cultural mechanism in which a preconceived set of expectations and
understanding of a culture and its heritage is established. Using the framework of the tourist gaze to
investigate Underwood & Underwood’s Egypt Boxed Stereoview Set (1905) and its accompanying book by
James Henry Breasted, this paper examines how Egypt and its cultural heritage finds itself perceived through
another’s orientation and set of values at the turn of the 20th century as well as its ramifications.

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