Orientalists in uniform? British military encounters and experiences in Egypt, c1798-1801
Simon Quinn PhD
University of York History
This thesis examines the experiences of British soldiers and sailors during Britain’s military intervention in Egypt between 1798 and 1801. The operations which took place in these years have been examined in the literature from strategic and geopolitical perspectives, but they have not been appreciated in the context of travel writing or orientalism. This thesis considers whether the British armed forces were contributors to orientalism. Although military personnel were not ordinary travel writers or orientalists, they were undoubtedly influenced by popular travel and orientalist literature. Their different experiences produced accounts that showed a distinctive blend of military narrative, travelogue and orientalist analysis, which has not received the attention deserved.
Chapter one emphasizes the diversity of British military views about the Egyptian landscape and climate, and highlights the distinctiveness of these views in comparison to civilian travellers. Chapter two examines the variety of military responses to objects and structures of antiquity in Egypt. It argues that the pursuit of antiquarianism was not at odds with the military occupation, and highlights the motivations behind the military collection of antiquities. Chapter three explores the ways in which British servicemen perceived their identity and a sense of difference from Near Eastern culture as they described encounters with the local peoples. It argues that military writing in Egypt reflects the confused and ever-changing understandings of different races and societies in this period. Chapters four and five consider the British response to the military bodies encountered in Egypt - the Ottomans and the Mamluks - whose lack of western characteristics was central to the British appraisal of them. This resulted in contradictory views amongst the British, who admired their exoticism but condemned the seemingly corrupt and backward state of their society.