Six postcards from Arabia: a visual discourse of colonial travels in the Orient

Peter Burns

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As mechanical reproductions, postcards fall into the category of what Walter Benjamin thought of as life’s ephemera or detritus that play an important part in constructing and reconstructing our understanding of the past. Postcards from the colonial era can be analysed to provide a visual discourse on power and the interrelationship between history and politics. The way in which we acquire historical knowledge and make something of it has undergone changes that are well illustrated by the six postcards featured herein. The seemingly unambiguous, surface-level presentations of the images reveal ambiguous, multiple meanings: exemplars of Said’s notion of ‘exteriority’. These seemingly naïve objects framed by the Zeitgeist of the colonial era tell us about the voyeuristic economy of the colonial gaze and how such images, when set within the milieux of the travel writing, Orientalist art, and the colonial tendency for transforming other cultures into objects for analysis, shaped and cast our purview of colonial subjects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-275
Number of pages21
JournalTourist Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • colonialism Middle East
  • orientalism
  • postcards
  • visual evidence
  • Walter Benjamin


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