13 Travel Snapshot: Holy Land Tourism during the British Mandate, 1918–48

Saturday, January 9, 2010
Elizabeth Ballroom E (Hyatt)
Hillary Kaell , Harvard University
In his classic book, To See a Promised Land (1993), Lester I. Vogel argued that after the 1918 British occupation of Palestine, the “Holy Land” changed radically in the minds of American Christians. This poster will engage this theory by looking at a history of American Christian travel to the Holy Land, focusing on the Mandate period (1918-1948). This poster argues that, in most ways, the British occupation and the increasing hostilities between Jewish and Arab inhabitants neither radically altered American conceptions of the Holy Land nor significantly changed nineteenth century modes of travel. Much more influential in changing American’s perception of their relationship to the Holy Land was the perceived shift in power that occurred after the First World War. American travelers abroad in the Holy Land went as pilgrims but still wrestled with a new sense of their country as an emerging economic and political power. This is evident in Protestant travelers’ interactions with local people and in their impressions of newly-built structures, such as the Jerusalem YMCA, an imposing edifice that was paid for by a rich American industrialist. This poster will also include American Catholic voices, which have hitherto been ignored in histories of U.S. Christian travel to the Holy Land. Catholics in the Mandate period traveled in larger groups than Protestants and were the first to develop Christian-run travel companies, which would expand to become a multibillion-dollar industry after 1965.      The main subjects of this poster are the middle-class and sometimes upper-class Americans who were geographically mobile in the 1920s and 1930s. The subject material, although focused on the Holy Land, offers a snapshot of the period right before a “mass” culture of American commercial tourism overseas became the norm after the Second World War. It questions how American Christians abroad conceived of their own identity and the identity of the locals they encountered. It asks how the Holy Land, at once familiar because of the Gospels but also “exotic” because of the Arabs, lived in fantasy and in reality for Americans in the Mandate period.    This subject matter is ideal for a poster session because it relies heavily on visual media – photos, tour pamphlets, slides and guidebooks. As well, the poster will feature well-chosen quotes from travelogues, travel books and tour advertisements. Short written explanations of the poster’s argument will also be provided. This subject is a good complement to the AHA’s theme, “Oceans, Islands, Continents” as it examines Americans in the context of mobility and travel but also looks at how this physical mobility is shaped by, and shaped, changes in American perceptions of their own identity.
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