Home > Departmental History at UND, Notes From Athens, Travel > Tourists and Photos in Hesperia

Tourists and Photos in Hesperia

Last week, I pulled down a box full of slides that I had taken between 1997 and 2003. I was looking for photographs of Lakka Skoutara in 2001 and 2002 (and found them, for all you who doubt my filing system), but I also found my pictures of my first trip to Greece and my two years as an associate member at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. I looked through box after box of them with a combination of nostalgia and amazement as I realized the completely clinical character of my pictures. My photos focused almost totally on ancient and Byzantine monuments with almost no shots of my friends, traveling companions, or the physical surroundings. As I thought about this more, I remembered how expensive slide film and processing was (particularly for a graduate student) and how important I thought it was to produce a teaching collection of images (in the days before Google Image), and this helped me relax a bit.

It was pleasant surprise to see an article in the most recent volume of Hesperia that looked at the 19th century equivalent of my touristic perambulations and their photographic record. D. Harlan’s “Travels, Pictures, and a Victorian Gentleman in Greece” continues Hesperia‘s recent interest in articles on early travelers and tourists to the Mediterranean and the role that they played in shaping our archaeological expectations and perceptions of Modern Greece. Harlan’s article focused on the slides of T.R.R. Stebbing who traveled to Greece and Turkey at the end of the 19th century. He took a series of glass-plate lantern-slides of famous monuments and well-known scenes, like the harbor at Smyrna. These slides came eventually to reside in the archives of the Institute of Archaeology of Oxford and some of them may have contributed to a published series of educational slides distributed by Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies. These slides, then, provide insights into not only the itinerary and values of a late 19th century tourist in the Eastern Mediterranean, but also the development of well-known educational collections that circulated on lantern slides widely in the the UK and the US.

The University of North Dakota has a small collection of these slides distributed by The Keystone View Company — one of the standard American firms distributing such lantern slides. Orin G. Libby, the long-time chair of the Department of History lobbied continuously for new and updated Lantern slide projectors. At the same time, Webster Merrifield the president of the University of North Dakota and, more or less, a contemporary of Stebbing traveled regularly to Europe and the Mediterranean. While there is no record of him taking slides photographs, Merrifield’s Classical training would have made it a likely possibility. After all, we know that he returned with a small number of objects purchased from across the Eastern Mediterranean and destined for a small (and now mostly lost) collection of University antiquities.

As Harlan argues, these slides served to link the tourist itineraries of the early guide books, like Murray’s, Cook’s, and Baedeker’s, to classroom instruction in the US. There is a direct parallel between these early tourist itineraries and the modern day itinerary of the American School of Classical Studies which, in turn, continues to reproduce and reinforce a standardized view of Greece as captured by the camera’s eye. (Check out this collection of images and compare them, broadly speaking, to the Stebbing’s pictures) The persistence of such structured engagements with both Ancient and Modern Greece is nothing short of remarkable. The distribution of such “tourist” photos (that is photos linked directly to a tourists itinerary) serve to condition particular engagements with the Greek landscape that, in turn, shape the itineraries of future tourists. One goes to Greece, according to this kind of structured engagement, less to see the country, per se, and more to reproduce images, vistas, and scenes burned into your memory through the wide distribution and use of images. This likely accounts for the slow rate of change in tourist itineraries (and the itinerary of the American School and other study tours to Greece) and the persistent (if slowly dissipating) view of Greece as a place of history rather than a dynamic society with its own character, problems, and potentials.

More on this exciting fascicule of Hesperia later in the week!

  1. October 26, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    The Keystone company also made box sets that they tried to sell to schools throughout the US. There’s a nice catalog of them (if you’re ever in a cataloging mood). I have images of traveling salesmen knocking on the doors of schools. The promotional material had “authoritative” quotations by University professors. They’re also pretty cheap on eBay.

  2. October 27, 2009 at 8:30 am

    your post made me think of the magnum photographer martin parr who has done a fabulous series of photographs of tourists at a variety of sites around the world. his work often deals with ideas of consumption and with this series in particular looks at how tourists search for authentic cultures may end up destroying them in the process. his images are full of wit and humor…one of my favorites. Below are a few examples…

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