The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

An American Woman in Egypt, 1914-1915: An Introduction

In my previous post, I explored the world of early twentieth-century travel by train. Inspired by the glimpse into another era the diary behind that post evoked, I went looking for other travel diaries from the same era and found an anonymous diary kept by a Boston woman while on a steamer cruise up the Nile in Egypt.

Intrigued by the notion of an American tourist riding donkeys out to explore Egyptian archeological sites and having tea at British colonial resorts while Europe was at war, I have decided to use this diary as a jumping-off point to write a series of posts this winter placing this diary, and the adventure it describes, in broader historical context.

The diary begins abruptly on 25 November 2014 with our diarist already en route up the Nile by steamer. The author begins each day with the date and writes a few lines about her daily activities -- notes on where and how she and her party traveled, the sites visited, as well as where and when she had breakfast, lunch, and tea. Even without detailed information about the author’s identity and the personal context of her foreign travel, her written record of progress up the Nile can serve as a catalyst for a number of historical questions.

We might explore, for example, what the diary can tell us about the history of travel, and particularly the history of women travellers. Her story is part of a long history of Anglo-American fascination with Egypt and the Middle East that bears unpacking -- by virtue of her anonymity her experience may shed light on the experience of everyday, rather than famous (or infamous), Americans abroad.  We might ask what her narrative can tell us about the materiality of travel, about human interaction with the natural and built environment. We can also note the silences and erasures within her narrative: those aspects of Egypt which she may or may not see, but certainly doesn’t write about.

Stay tuned for the second post in this series, coming in February, in which we will delve into the timeline of our diarist’s journey up the Nile and some of the activities she did record along the way.

permalink | Published: Tuesday, 27 January, 2015, 1:00 AM


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