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chapter one “To travel is to possess the world” The Illustrated Travel Lectures of E. Burton Holmes “The World 100 Years Ago” The illustrated travel lecturer Elias Burton Holmes began his 1953 autobiography The World Is Mine with his motto, “To travel is to possess the world.” He intended the phrase metaphorically: “I know that through travel I have possessed the world more completely, more satisfyingly than if I had acquired the whole earth by purchase or conquest.”Yet despite his care in setting apart travel, which “takes naught from any man,” from the brute economic, political, and military realities of purchase and conquest, Holmes’s remarkable career as a professional traveler was made possible in many ways by precisely these practices.1 At the turn of the twentieth century, the entertaining narratives and picturesque images of the Burton Holmes Lectures represented the world to Americans at the dawn of the American Century. Holmes claimed, not without reason , that “many lands became, through my efforts, visibly familiar to my increasing audiences.”2 In keeping with Edward Said’s imperative to “look carefully and integrally at the culture that nurtured the sentiment, rationale, and above all the imagination of empire,” we must analyze such representations as more than merely entertainment.3 Viewed in the context of the imperial contests of the turn of the century, these representations constituted an important element of a national culture struggling with questions of economic expansion, racial and cultural difference , and colonial conquest. As a young boy, historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. attended the Burton Holmes Lectures at Boston’s Symphony Hall in the 1920s with his mother. Many decades later, he wrote the introduction to The World 100 Years Ago, a 1998 publication that reprinted abbreviated versions of some of Holmes’s lectures. The essay begins: 27 Burton Holmes!—forgotten today, but such a familiar name in America in the ‹rst half of the 20th century, a name then almost synonymous with dreams of foreign travel. . . . He taught generations of Americans about the great world beyond the seas. His books are still readable today and show new generations how their grandparents learned about a world that has since passed away but remains a fragrant memory.4 Holmes’s photographs, ‹lms, and lectures are indeed valuable documents of the “World 100 Years Ago” and as such also provide important evidence of United States overseas expansionism at the turn of the twentieth century. Holmes had extraordinary timing: he was on the scene in Hawai‘i as the Senate was voting to annex it, in Manila near the beginning of the Philippine-American War, and inside the Forbidden City in Beijing, formerly Peking, soon after the conclusion of the Boxer Uprising . He characterized the ‹rst fourteen years of the century as “those happy years”when“I was almost alone in the then peculiar ‹eld of showing Americans what the world, outside of America, looked like.”5 Holmes was not, of course, the ‹rst or the only person to bring images of foreign countries to U.S. audiences. But at the very moment that Holmes was “showing Americans what the world, outside America, looked like,” a dramatic rede‹nition was occurring not only in technologies of showing but also in the concept of America as a nation and its relationship to the world outside. Holmes enthusiastically embraced each of these changes; his sense of the historic, along with the size and demographic of his public following, makes him an especially important purveyor of travel images in this period. He was also one of the ‹rst, if not the ‹rst, illustrated travel lecturer to incorporate moving pictures into his presentations. This fact makes his work particularly relevant to this book’s examination of U.S. ‹lms shot on location in Asia. In sum, Holmes combined the visual and dramatic possibilities offered by cinema with the well-worn conventions of the travel lecture. Thus, his lectures offer an early vision of the power of ‹lm as both a form of virtual travel and a form of knowledge of faraway places. Holmes’s lectures, initially accompanied only by hand-painted photographic slides, are part of the history of what Charles Musser calls “screen practice,” which situates cinema within a historical model that addresses a range of related technologies, representational strategies, and social and cultural functions.6 This model therefore allows ‹lm historians to consider texts, such as Holmes’s early lectures, that do not con28 Envisioning asia form to what we would...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780472027064
Related ISBN
9780472050833
MARC Record
OCLC
671655107
Pages
278
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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