Colonial Baggage: Global Tourism in the Age of Empires, 1840s–1970s

digital (München)
Mikko Toivanen, Munich Centre for Global History; Andreas Greiner, German Historical Institute, Washington, D.C.
18.11.2021 - 19.11.2021
Alexandra Hamann / Eleyne Wenninger / Anosh Samuel, German Historical Institute, Washington, D.C.

The often-neglected interconnection of global tourism and imperialism was at the heart of this workshop. Tourism triggered processes of change in colonial territories, however, simultaneously it created and reinforced colonial and hierarchical structures between colonisers and colonised. Despite the obvious entanglements, tourism represents a desideratum in the historiography of imperialism – it has been considered merely a marginal phenomenon and has often been trivialised, as organiser Mikko Toivanen pointed out. Unjustly, as became clear in the workshop, which was a multifaceted journey through the history of tourism in the Age of Empires with the intent to fill a gap in the historiographical research on imperialism.

The three papers presented in the first panel impressively demonstrated how tourism and imperial (infra)structures were interrelated in colonial and imperial contexts. Three key means of travel – railroads, aviation, and shipping – were considered in three countries or regions that were characterised by different imperial structures. First, SHRADDHA BHATAWADEKAR (Cottbus) invited participants to hop on a train through to interwar India. She presented how the railroad companies used, expanded and massively advertised the existing widespread route network of the country and the sights it made accessible in order to attract tourists. Through targeted promotion of rail travel and various promotional offers, the railroad system with all its surrounding infrastructure itself became part of the tourist experience.

LAITH SHAKIR (New York) used the example of Iraq to convincingly illustrate how a country's infrastructure can change because of air tourism in the interwar period. The emergence of primarily American aviation tourism in Iraq promoted by the press and spurred by travel deals from tour operators such as Thomas Cook, which promoted flying as a new and particularly appealing way to discover foreign countries, was inextricably accompanied by the need to modernise and further develop the tourism infrastructure.

Finally, participants explored with ELLIOTT STURTEVANT (New York) the supply lines of the "Great White Fleet" at the turn of the 20th century between the Caribbean and the US, which promised access to the tropics – whether consumed at home through imports or experienced first-hand thanks to a sea voyage to faraway places. Special attention was paid to the temporality and spatiality of infrastructures, infrastructural connectivity, maintenance and repair.

ROLAND WENZLHUEMER (Munich) discussed the dynamic interrelation of the expansion of both infrastructure and the tourism industry in the imperial context. He concluded that all three papers impressively showed how transport infrastructure itself can become part of the tourism experience or even an attraction. Interesting topics for further research offered by the connection between infrastructure and tourism would be on the one hand, the overlapping of different modes of travel that complement each other, and on the other hand, the question of independent individual tourism away from infrastructurally developed routes in contrast to mass tourism.

The second panel with the focus on tourism and processes of (mutual) learning was opened by ANTONIO MONTE CASABLANCA (Berlin). His presentation on Folk studies and Mestizaje in Nicaraguan tourism illuminated the entanglements between the nascent tourist enterprise and industry in Central America with the increasing influence of the “Interamerican Indigenista Institute”. While US tourists in the 1960s and 1970s were concerned about experiencing an “authentic” Nicaragua, he observed, Nicaraguan elites were worried about figuring out what exactly an “authentic” Nicaragua was.

TIMOTHY NICHOLSON (Farmingdale, NY) briefed the participants on the development, progress, and the uplifting of East African students by British officials in the 1950s and 1960s. He highlighted the cultural politics of decolonisation within the UK. The influence of imperial culture and raising racism towards African students in the UK coming from Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda had also become a matter of discussion amongst the British officials. Addressing to the British concern on racism faced by African student: the officials wanted to check on how the African students spend their time outside of the classroom. To do so, they treated African students as tourists and presented a soft image of British culture.

EVGENIYA ZAKHAROVA (Moscow) focused on Turkestan youth and their trips to European Russia in 1899–1902. For educational purposes, groups from the imperial periphery were invited to European Russia on tours guided by translators and interpreters. According to Zakharova, the students were amazed to see the vastness of the country and the Great White Tsar. They were presented the greatness, power, and wealth of the empire. However, as she emphasised, the guides also put a special focus on Turkestani heritage in the metropole, in this way implying that the visitors’ home region was a part of a coherent imperial space.

Discussant ERIC G.E. ZUELOW (Biddeford, ME) briefly commented on the papers and noted the connection between politics, tourism, and learning. According to Zuelow, tourism was mainly a practice of Europeans. Such practices had been adopted by Indians during British Raj in the sub-continent. Furthermore, he concluded that student travellers better understood the functioning of everyday life and they tried to apply such practices in their countries in order to foster change and development.

KRIS ALEXANDERSON (Stockton, CA) opened the third panel focusing on the workers of tourism. Dutch passenger liners to Southeast Asia in the 1920s and 1930s, she showed, were segregated institutions, in which norms around race, class, gender, and geopolitical alignment were established and practiced. Thereby, the transit to Indonesia functioned as an intermediary zone of transition: In order to learn and memorise imperial norms before their arrival in the colony, European tourists and travellers were encouraged to practice their superior role through interactions with Indonesian crew members and passengers of lower classes. Alexanderson also pointed to the transgressive behaviour of supposedly subaltern staff and travellers in these interactions.

CANDIDA KEITHLEY (Auckland) addressed a cultural opportunity for the village residents of Whakarewarewa (Whaka) in New Zealand that was provided by tourism in the late 19th century. After losing ownership over their land to the crown, the residents created their own representation of the area through their guides, women and children. Guides recreated an imagined Whaka in order to make it more appealing to tourists and to resist the colonial government by ignoring notions of “legal” ownership.

SUSIE PROTSCHKY (Melbourne) emphasised the hard work that porters and guides in Java (Indonesia) fulfilled to make their clients more comfortable in the late colonial era. Understanding Java’s volcanoes as sites of work, opportunity and exploitation, she used photographs to outline the complex relationships between Javanese workers, guides, and tourists. The complexity of the Javanese’s social mobility and the importance of hierarchies not only between tourists and workers, but also among the Javanese men became apparent.

The discussant of this panel, VERNADETTE VICUÑA GONZALEZ (Manoa), summarised the three papers in a thought-provoking comment. It became clear that the tourists had a paradoxical desire for exotic impressions on the one hand and for modern technical systems on the other. To fulfil this desire, a heavily manipulated environment was required, and another load of hard work was needed to maintain this exotic tourist phantasy. The workers’ effort to enable a satisfactory impression for the tourists was not seen by the Europeans. Gender and race were brought into the discussion as topics where further research is needed. Gonzalez also pointed to the underlying key aspect of this panel: the predicament of historians working with a post-colonial methodology regarding the sources available to them, which almost exclusively reflect the perspective of the colonialists. Therefore, a decolonial approach by historians to the vast archival material available is imperative.

SEMIH GÖKATALAY (San Diego, CA) opened the last panel that focused on tourism development, the inequalities of tourism and how colonial contexts tried to contest these structures. Studying trade fairs in British and French Middle Eastern colonies in the Interwar period, he discussed the importance of colonial propaganda in general and the narrative of the tourists as saviours of endangered cultural property in particular. Through the Middle East tourists’ fairs, structures of collaboration and competition were revealed.

How tourism shaped the African economy was investigated by DÖRTE LERP (Berlin). In East Africa, the British embraced tourism, since it was considered a motor of the region’s development. A special focus was on the changing nature of tourism in the 1930s and 1940s, when the traditional hunting tourism was complemented with photographic safaris attracting new audiences from the middle classes. Lerp explored the transition from the colonial tourism of these years to post-colonial tourism of the 1960s by studying the history of the East African Tourist Travel Association (EATTA) that managed (by building on colonial infrastructure and expertise) to turn East Africa into a promising tourist destination with pristine nature yet to be explored.

ARNOUT VAN DER MEER (Waterville, ME) spoke about the creation of contrasts in tourists’ experiences in early 20th century. Indonesian mountain resorts and hill stations were a means to challenge the accelerated traditional impression that tourists got of the country. These carefully curated tourist destinations served as refuge for Europeans – a place to rest and to recover the colonisers’ body from the tropical climate. Complementing Alexanderson’s paper, van der Meer likewise pointed to the many transgressive activities of Indonesians on these sites. An important point was the observation that we, as today’s tourists, are still visiting the same hotels and could still use the same guidebooks.

The closing paper was presented by JESSICA LYNNE PEARSON (St. Paul, MN) who showed that tourism was an important vehicle for social change and sovereignty in the decolonising Global South of the 1940s–1970s. In this sense, tourism should be seen as a driving force of post-colonial developments, which is why it is important to illuminate the ongoing entanglements between the former colonisers and colonised. Despite decolonisational efforts, the former colonised were reliant on expertise and infrastructure of their previous colonisers.

Discussant ROBERT KRAMM (Munich) emphasised the inequalities of the tourism sector and illustrated how touristic phantasies were created only to be explored and exploited by the colonisers. He added the complex dimensions of gender and sexuality as a new layer to this panel. Imperial travel and tourism entailed asymmetries of power, while at the same time tourism functioned as an area of contest. With the role of capitalism that cannot be overstated, Kramm closed his comment with the hint that “the leisure of a happy few is the labour of the masses”. The following discussion dealt with the assertion that images are still a crucial factor in the tourism sector and enabled an expanded discussion that reached far over the topic of this panel.

Of course, there is still a number of topics that have not been covered in the context of this workshop, or that have not yet been discussed in the historical research on tourism, for example environment and pollution, sex tourism, or the ostensibly simple question: who is the person travelling in the colonised world? However, as Greiner and Toivanen emphasised in their closing remarks, the workshop made visible that tourism was an integral part of imperial systems in the 19th and 20th century. The interest in the workshop and the large number of attendees shows the recognition of the subject, which has received little attention in the context of colonial studies so far, yet proves to be a promising and broad field of research.

Conference overview:

Andreas Greiner (German Historical Institute Washington) / Mikko Toivanen (Munich Centre for Global History): Welcome and introductory remarks

Panel 1: Tourism and infrastructure

Shraddha Bhatawadekar (Brandenburg University of Technology, Cottbus): The Role of Railway Publicity in Tourism Promotion in India: Cultural Politics of the Inter-war Period

Laith Shakir (New York University): “The Magic Carpet Up to Date:” Imperial Aviation, Development, and Tourism in Interwar Iraq

Elliott Sturtevant (Columbia University, New York): Conditioning Tourism and Trade aboard the “Great White Fleet”

Discussant: Roland Wenzlhuemer (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)

Panel 2: Tourism and learning

Antonio Monte Casablanca (Freie Universität Berlin): Folk Studies and Mestizaje in Nicaraguan Tourism (1955–1979)

Timothy Nicholson (Farmingdale State College): Civilizing the Student: Domestic Tourism for Imperial Subjects

Evgeniya Zakharova (Moscow Kremlin Museums): "We saw the immense Russia, we saw the Great White Tsar": Tourist Trips of Turkestan Youth to European Russia, 1899–1902

Discussant: Eric G.E. Zuelow (University of New England, Biddeford, ME)

Panel 3: The workers of tourism

Kris Alexanderson (University of the Pacific, Stockton, CA): Imperial Learning at Sea: Dutch Passenger Liners as Colonial Classrooms, 1920s–1930s

Candida Keithley (University of Auckland): “A glimpse of Wonderland”: Māori Guides’ Creation of “Imagined Whakarewarewa”

Susie Protschky (Deakin University, Melbourne): Javanese Porters and Guides and the Colonial Origins of Geotourism and Volcanology

Discussant: Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez (University of Hawai’I, Manoa)

_Panel 4: Developing tourism

Semih Gökatalay (University of California, San Diego): A “Fair” Tourism for all? Trade Fairs and Colonial Tourism in the Interwar Middle East

Dörte Lerp (Freie Universität Berlin): Tourism as a Late Colonial Development Strategy in East Africa

Arnout van der Meer (Colby College, Waterville, ME): Touristic Upland Cultures: Mountain Resorts and Tourist Networks in Colonial Indonesia

Jessica Lynne Pearson (Macalester College, St. Paul, MN): Destination Development: Global Tourism between Empire and Economic Sovereignty

Discussant: Robert Kramm (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)

Andreas Greiner and Mikko Toivanen: Final remarks

Tagungsbericht: Colonial Baggage: Global Tourism in the Age of Empires, 1840s–1970s, 18.11.2021 – 19.11.2021 digital (München), in: H-Soz-Kult, 03.02.2022, <>.