Newberry Library Undergraduate Seminar: Exchange before Orientalism | Newberry

Newberry Library Undergraduate Seminar: Exchange before Orientalism

Asia and Europe, 1500–1800
Tuesday, January 15, 2013Thursday, May 2, 2013

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2 – 5 pm

Exchange before Orientalism: Asia and Europe, 1500–1800


Laura Hostetler, University of Illinois at Chicago
Ellen McClure, University of Illinois at Chicago

About the Seminar

In 1498, Vasco da Gama landed on the West Coast of India and launched a period of extensive commercial, cultural, and technological exchange between Europe and the East. These were uncharted waters for all concerned, and the outcome of the first tentative encounters among these great civilizations of the era was uncertain. Drawing on recent scholarship and the Newberry Library’s extensive collection of primary documents and artifacts, “Exchange before Orientalism” will examine exchange before European imperialism transformed an uncertain process of mutual familiarization into a struggle for dominance.

Through class meetings and a common set of readings, we will investigate topics such as early modernity; gift exchange; tributary relations; “exotic” animals; Wunderkammer (or collections of curious objects); ethnography; cartography; art; trade; piracy; exploration; and religion and missionary activity. Illustrated materials will play an important role in the seminar alongside the display of relevant texts in the Newberry’s collections, which offer many first-hand accounts of these exchanges.

Bearing in mind each country’s distinct approach to East-West exchange, we will focus on differences and competition across Europe, even as we explore the emergence of “Europe” as a concept and region defined in relation to the larger world during this period.

Each student will also independently explore an area of his or her own choosing. The instructors and Newberry staff will help students plan and carry out their research using primary materials. While students do not need knowledge of a language other than English to take this course, students proficient in other languages will have the opportunity to conduct research in those languages. Although as a class we will primarily consider Europe’s interactions with various parts of Asia, students with a special interest in the New World can pursue research in the Newberry’s rich holdings in that area. Students will present their findings in a symposium and final research paper.

One of the aims will be to encourage students to explore instances that do not fit neatly into common ideas about how Europeans viewed and interacted with others—ideas that reflect primarily the more recent imperial past. While we will draw on studies that lay out ideologies that justified western imperialism, we aim also to look at instances that show that “Orientalism” is not limited to a practice that “the West” imposed on other peoples. To this end we will also examine cases where the “non-West” orientalized its own others, and instances where Europeans voluntarily accepted the cultural refinements of the countries in which they sojourned abroad.

About the Instructors

Laura Hostetler specializes in the history of China during the early modern period. Her book, Qing Colonial Enterprise deals with the use of cartography and ethnography in the process of empire building in China. The Art of Ethnography, co-authored with David Deal, explores eighteenth-century Chinese ethnographic representations of culturally non-Chinese peoples in the context of global early modernity. Her current research explores the way the Qing court used early modern technologies in expanding and governing the empire. She is Professor and Chair of Department of History, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Ellen McClure is the author of Sunspots and the Sun King: Sovereignty and Mediation in Seventeenth-Century France. She has written and lectured extensively on early modern diplomacy, both inside of Europe and between Europe and other regions. Her expertise includes French contacts and interactions with the Ottoman Empire and Siam and their representation in literature, particularly during the reign of Louis XIV. She is currently working on a project that examines the intersection of literature, philosophy, and religion in early modern France. She is Associate Professor and Head of the Department of French and Francophone Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago.