Reviewed by Erin Hyde Nolan (Maine College of Art)
Published on H-AMCA (April, 2018)
Commissioned by Nisa Ari (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Elisabeth A. Fraser’s new book, Mediterranean Encounters: Artists between Europe and the Ottoman Empire, 1774-1839, actively decenters Europe as the locus of modern history. It gives agency to Ottoman artists and artistic accounts, exploring the entangled histories and often contradictory narratives that link these parts of the world. By looking at a group of six illustrated travel albums produced at the end of the eighteenth century, Fraser positions migration and representation as related components in a transnational system of exchange. She illustrates continuities of historic experience across the land and sea, highlighting visual accounts shaped by particular moments of contact. With a carefully theorized methodology to investigate such meetings and their materializations on the album page, Mediterranean Encounters illuminates the intercultural nature that has long defined the Ottoman Empire. Fraser’s splendidly rich analysis embraces the instability and disorientation engendered by the experience of travel and the reciprocal (though not always equal) process of borrowing visual forms and representational strategies across shifting imperial and national borders.