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.