Scheidel Lecture explores Orientalism

mukerji_artDr. Chandra Mukerji from the Department of Communication, UCSD, spoke April 14, 2010, during the 2009-2010 Thomas M. Scheidel Lecture. Her topic was “Orientalism and Visual Communication: Early Scientific Imagery of the Ottoman Empire.”

Orientalism in the 19th century was premised on a configuration of power in which Europeans saw themselves as naturally superior to people in the East. Secure in the system of colonial rule, people of the West saw the East as a land of exoticism, sexuality, and moral danger that they could choose to approach and characterize with either desire or disgust.

But there was earlier writing on the East by European geographers that informed Orientalist discourse in the 19th century that was written when the East was more powerful than the West. In the Renaissance, the Ottoman Empire was expanding into Europe, its armies apparently impossible to stop.

A French geographer, Nicolas de Nicolay, visited the empire in this period, and wrote on his experiences, using terms that seem to the modern eye Orientalist but were based on fear of the “other” rather than contempt. Dr. Mukerji examines how this early context of power informed Nicolay’s view of Ottoman culture, focusing on his illustrations of Ottoman social types and his writings on geography, moral character and social identity.