Experiencing the Otherworldly: Magazine Reading and Illustrations of Orientalist Domestic Space in the United States, 1880-1920

Thumbnail Image

Persistent link to this item

View Statistics

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Experiencing the Otherworldly: Magazine Reading and Illustrations of Orientalist Domestic Space in the United States, 1880-1920

Published Date




Thesis or Dissertation


“Experiencing the Otherworldly” analyzes images of exotic furnishings and interiors—magazine illustrations, advertisements, and photographs—in order to show the ways in which turn-of-the-century white upper- and middle-class American women may have engaged with exoticism. I focus specifically on images produced between 1880 and 1920 that depict styles that evoke North Africa and the Middle East. Employing close visual and textual analysis of four decades of American taste-making periodicals, I have discerned a noticeable increase in illustrations and discussion of exoticized interiors, especially in the 1890s. Noticing this decisive shift through exhaustive review, I anchor my analysis in the illustrations found in The Decorator and Furnisher (1882-1897) and The Art Amateur (1879-1903), because they exemplify this increasing interest. I argue that women used magazine illustrations of “Persian,” “Moorish,” and “Turkish” interiors as a means of participating in the public discourse of imperialism through the private consumption of images. The sensory stimulation that women experienced through viewing illustrations of exotic interiors created an affective participation in imperialism. This same sensory stimulation also allows us to think about the means by which magazine readers accessed the architectural space found within the illustration. Images of exotic domestic interiors are vehicles that visually transport the viewer out of their mundane circumstances and into an elaborate, exoticized world. Immersive engagement is a form of reading that, through the imaginative response to illustrations, permits a form of travel without leaving the spaces of everyday life, which included the home, the department store, the seat on the subway/trolley, or the front porch. To formulate my interpretative theory, I draw upon scholarship from the late nineteenth century to the 1980s that addresses: the perception of art (Alois Riegl and Bernard Berenson), everyday life studies (Michel Foucault, Michel de Certeau, and Henri Lefebvre), and phenomenology (Gaston Bachelard, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Jean-Paul Sartre). I use chapters one and two to contextualize magazine reading and imagined transportation into illustrations of exotic interiors by exploring the representation of otherness at the nationally significant, and culturally catalytic, 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, juxtaposing this with a study of how white women could use exotic goods as a means of self-expression. Chapter one, “Coming (Home) to the Midway Middle East: Familiarity and Domestication,” addresses the exposition, namely Cairo Street, housed in the exposition’s entertainment district, the Midway Plaisance. I argue that its architectural spaces, were similar to what visitors already knew in their own hometowns, and thus visitors could control their exposure to otherness through consumer choices. Chapter two, “Seeing the Interior: Consumerism and the Exoticization of Self,” takes up the notion of how the exotic came home, namely through purchase of consumer goods and interior furnishings. I assert that the ease and availability of exotic goods allowed white women to demonstrate a feminized form of imperialism, through the pastime of shopping. The acquisition of exotic goods into the home also served a second purpose: it was a way for white women to intimately engage with the exotic, and express something of their psychological interiority through self-othering. This dual understanding of women as both imperialistic and Other demonstrates the contradictory social placement value that white women held in American culture. In establishing a cultural and visual connection between exotic furnishings and female consumers, I then focus specifically on illustrations of exoticized interiors found in decorating- and women’s magazines in the second half of the dissertation. Chapters three and four assert the importance of the visual representations of exotic spaces in the everyday life of female readers. In chapter three, “Magazine Reading and the Material Culture of Escape,” I assert that the practice of magazine reading was a form of escape from women’s everyday environments, especially powerful as reading was a socially-acceptable form of leisure. In considering reading as retreat alongside the characterization of exotic interiors as offering complete relaxation, I argue that looking at illustrations of exotic interiors in particular could stimulate the mind to explore, through the imagination, the interiors depicted. In chapter four, “Text, Image, and Immersion into Illustrated Interiors,” I analyze this imagined exploration. When a reader enters reverie, she explores the two-dimensional image as an imagined three-dimensional interior. Both the image and accompanying text stimulate the senses, thus activating the reader’s imagination in order to explore the illustrated space.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. December 2016. Major: Art History. Advisors: Jennifer Marshall, Katherine Solomonson. 1 computer file (PDF); v, 250 pages.

Related to




Series/Report Number

Funding information

Isbn identifier

Doi identifier

Previously Published Citation

Suggested citation

Truitt, Andrea. (2016). Experiencing the Otherworldly: Magazine Reading and Illustrations of Orientalist Domestic Space in the United States, 1880-1920. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/202122.

Content distributed via the University Digital Conservancy may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor. By using these files, users agree to the Terms of Use. Materials in the UDC may contain content that is disturbing and/or harmful. For more information, please see our statement on harmful content in digital repositories.