In 1900, Methodist minister and Chautauqua movement leader Jess Lyman Hurlbut published a guide to the Holy Land featuring “one hundred stereographed places in Palestine.” A proselytizer for ‘Biblical history,’ Hurlbut imagined the popular nineteenth-century technology of the handheld stereoscope to possess “magical…power to give us a vivid realization of the actuality of the Biblical narrative.” Its illusion of three-dimensional depth through two juxtaposed photographs would enable Americans at home to “stand…in the very presence of Palestine” and “think [themselves] into those far-away lands.” Through stereoscopes and accompanying guides, Hulbert and other turn-of-the-twentieth-century Western travelers attempted to construct a Near East fully knowable to Western imperial eyes. Hulbert’s guide superimposed Orientalist tropes and apocryphal Biblical meaning onto street scenes in contemporary Jerusalem, Damascus, and Hebron.[21] Yet the stereoscope, as art historian Jonathan Crary notes, differed from still photography in that “the disjunction between experience and its cause…the composite, synthetic nature of the stereoscopic image could never be fully effaced.”[22] By the 1920s, the stereoscope had lost out to photography and film as a techne of seeing, in part because of its inability to hide the constructed-ness of its virtual reality.

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Copyright © 2017 Michigan State University Department of History. This review first appeared in H-Diplo 19:13 (2017), 13-19.

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