Delivering Views: Distant Cultures in Early Postcards: Christraud M. Geary, Virginia-Lee Webb

 

The heyday of postcard production was also an era of rapidly expanding European and American control over the rest of the world. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, images of distant peoples from the Americas, Africa, Oceania, and Asia became ubiquitous souvenirs of imperialism.

The six contributors to this abundantly illustrated volume show how images of Plains Indians, World’s Fair cards, and portraits from Africa, the Pacific Islands, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan documented distant cultures but also reinforced Western biases by emphasizing the seemingly vast cultural differences between viewers and subjects. The authors discuss the differences between original photographs and their postcard equivalents, and they explore in detail common practices — such as artificial settings, costumes and props, colorization, and patronizing captions — that perpetuated racist, sexist, and romantic stereotypes.

Drawing on anthropological, historical, and art historical analyses, contributors examine examples from both public and private collections, tracing the postcard’s overlapping roles as souvenir, collectible, and popular art form. Showcasing 132 images, many of which have never before been published, the book concludes that early postcards both provide historical information about the peoples they depict and reveal Westerners’ perceptions of — and apprehensions about — cultures that differed from their own.

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