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    Jul 26

    Written by: adawson 7/26/2011 11:13 AM 

    Orientalism, the interest in all things Asian and Eastern, was a popular subject of fascination and wonder during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and consequently was a popular field for collectors. John G. White, the founding donor of the library’s Special Collections, was an avid collector of foreign and international books, including orientalia. Amongst the White collections, the Cleveland Public Library has many copies of the 1001 Arabian Nights, along with a truly special collection of the first photographs of the Islamic holy city of Mecca.

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     Christian Snouk Hurgronje (1857-1936) was a Dutch Oriental scholar who harbored a life-long fascination with Islamic culture and eastern languages, a passion which took him into colonial administration in the Dutch East Indies in the late 1880s and served him well in his service there. In the same decade, Hurgronje became the first westerner to take photographs of Mecca. However, intrigue followed Hurgronje everywhere he went – he may have been a spy during the Aceh uprising in the Dutch East Indies in 1898–1905 – and he was forced to flee Mecca when locals implicated him in a possible theft case. In his hurry to leave, Hurgronje left his bulky photographic equipment behind in Mecca with a local ophthalmologist who had previously helped him with his lenses, and this doctor took further photographs that now form part of this exhibit.

    Pilgrims of the Hajj Pilgrim camp during the Hajj

     While Hurgronje was the first westerner to take photographs of Mecca, the English soldier and adventurer Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890) was an earlier visitor who posed as a Moslem on Hajj to gain access to Mecca. His celebrated accounts of his journeys, which also include a trek into Sudan to find the source of the Nile, were sensationally popular, as were his translations of the 1001 Arabian Nights. Many more of Burton’s papers and narratives were destroyed by his wife upon his death, however, as his wife was embarrassed by some of his exploits during his other travels.