Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department



Barczewski, Stephanie

Committee Member

Bein , Amit

Committee Member

Burns , James


Of the many criticisms leveled at Edward Said's seminal work, Orientalism (1978), and those of post-colonial theorists following in his wake, from an historian's perspective the most significant is that his argument is utterly lacking in historical context. In fact, post-colonial theorists do tend to mistrust the validity of history and often are suspicious of its complicity in the enterprise of western empires. Despite Said's undeniable ahistoricism, however, most historians agree that the basic tenants of his argument have merit. What is lacking, then, is an examination of orientalism not as an indictment, with all manner of evidence pulled seemingly at random from a jumble of historic periods and geographic locations, but as an historical trend, a bi-product - and often abettor - of empire-building, artistic [mis]representation and othering of the unknown, which manifests itself in a variety of ways in different periods and settings. Analyzing the nature of orientalism in a specific western form of representation set against the historical context with regard to a certain geographic location, and how it evolves in form as the historical/political backdrop advances, will ground the endeavor of post-colonial theory firmly within the framework of historical inquiry. This will test the validity of Said's thesis when the issues of his historicism and his references to portrayals of various and incongruous locales are corrected. I attempt to do this here by examining orientalism in American films set in Iraq, Egypt and Jerusalem, from the silent era to the present day, and tracing the unique form it takes and the evolution it undergoes as a result of American political/military interaction with and cultural awareness of each of these locations, respectively.

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