What Does the East Mean?

Word clouds

The Volga/Ural region

What did the “East” or “Asia” represent to these travelers? Most commonly, it was manifestations of Islam, in particular mosques and headscarved women. Economic and cultural backwardness were also common, as was the description of the East as unknown, mysterious, or empty. Some of the indicators were positive (if patronizing): sensuousness, exoticism, colorful ethnic variety. “Easternness” was represented in particular ways in particular places: for example, the first word cloud represents descriptions of the East made by travelers in Russia's Volga/Ural region, where "Islam" is clearly the most salient feature.

"At last, on the third day we reached Kuzebai, a Bashkir village, where we had our first glimpse of Oriental life. The houses were rudely built of clay, half under-ground, and with flat clay roofs, on which the dogs of the household were constantly promenading and barking at us. At the other end of the village rose the wooden cone-capped minaret of the mosque." (Eugene Schuyler, Turkestan, 1876)

 

What Does the East Mean?