Learning Vicariously: Tourism, Orientalism and the Making of an Architectural Photography Collection of Egypt

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Andrew Dickson White, the first president of Cornell University in the United States, referred to architecture as his 'pet extravagance.' Leveraging his influential position as president, White was instrumental in the establishment of the architecture department in 1871. One of his noteworthy contributions to this newly founded department was the initiation of an architectural photography collection that was a direct result of his travels around the world as a diplomat, a scholar and, eventually, as a tourist. This architectural photography collection formed the core of the architectural history education at the school well into the 20th century. At that time, photographs provided one of the only ways for students to learn about the architecture of distant places. White’s selection of architectural subjects, however, was shaped not through deep scholarly inquiry, but rather by the nascent tourist industry. This paper examines White's Egyptian collection, acquired during his voyage to Egypt in 1889. His trip to Egypt, in his own words “marked a new epoch in [his] thinking.” Encountering the 'east' for the first time, White's photography collection both bolstered and challenged the prescribed ways of viewing Egypt and Egyptian architecture, thus having a direct influence on how Cornell students perceived the historic built environment of the ‘east’.
Original languageEnglish
JournalArchitectural Histories
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jan 2017

User-Defined Keywords

  • architectural photography
  • tourism
  • Egypt
  • Andrew Dickson White
  • Cornell University
  • architectural history education


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