In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Orientalism and Geography

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works and Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • European Orientalisms
  • Early Critiques
  • Internal Orientalism

Geography Orientalism and Geography
David Jansson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 February 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0010


Originally used to signify the academic study of a particular region—that is, “the Orient”—the term “orientalism” has now, due to the influence of Edward Said, come to be commonly (if not exclusively) understood as a nexus of knowledge and power relations that shape the understanding of and the exercise of power over the region known as the Orient. The Orient of academic orientalism was a constantly shifting target; initially referring to the Near (or Middle) East, with an emphasis on Islam (see the Oxford Bibliographies in Islamic Studies article “Orientalism and Islam”), the place of reference moved eastward along with European colonial and imperial expansion, so that eventually an orientalist might study any place from North Africa to East Asia. Orientalists studied the languages, religions, and cultures of “the Orient,” providing Europe with what was initially understood as objective knowledge about distant lands and peoples. Such knowledge was often vitally important to the colonial and imperial projects of European states; colonial officials and other representatives of European states were typically key producers of knowledge of the Orient. A critique of this connection between academic investigation and the exercise of state power was at the heart of Edward Said’s book Orientalism (1978). Although his was not the first critical study of the academic discipline of orientalism, it was the work that was destined to have the most influence in shaping modern understandings of Europe’s encounter with the East.

General Overviews

The center of gravity of this article will necessarily be located in the work of Edward Said. In this section, though, the focus is on surveys of orientalism as a scholarly pursuit by other writers. App 2010 argues that modern orientalism emerged not in the 19th century, as often contended, but rather during the 18th century and was motivated more by the needs of religious ideologies than economic or political agendas. Tolmacheva 1995 also explores the early stages of orientalism in the 1700s and describes the factors that facilitated the birth of this academic discipline. Macfie 2002 surveys English, French, and German orientalisms and discusses the critical work of Anouar Abdel-Malek, A. L. Tibawi, Said, and Bryan S. Turner. Dossa 1987 offers a useful review of the classical origins of orientalism as a political philosophy. MacKenzie 1995 (cited under Other Critiques) examines the extent to which orientalism has been reflected in Western art. Irwin 2006 presents a history of orientalism through a sympathetic exploration of the sometimes eccentric individuals who produced knowledge of “the Orient” for the West. Driver 2001 places this orientalist knowledge production in the historical context of European exploration and colonialism, highlighting the role of geographers and geographic explorers. Lockman 2004 examines the history of orientalism from the Greeks and Romans to the modern manifestations of orientalism in the age of empire, through the Cold War, and on to the early 21st century. Mazumdar, et al. 2011 applies a postcolonial perspective to the confrontation between Europe and Asia.

  • App, Urs. The Birth of Orientalism. Encounters with Asia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.

    Argues that modern orientalism emerged not in the 19th century but rather during the 18th century and was motivated more by the needs of religious ideologies than economic or political agendas. Discusses many sources not available in English.

  • Dossa, Shiraz. “Political Philosophy and Orientalism: The Classical Origins of a Discourse.” Alternatives 12.3 (1987): 343–357.

    DOI: 10.1177/030437548701200304

    The classical origins of orientalist thinking.

  • Driver, Felix. Geography Militant: Cultures of Exploration and Empire. Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001.

    An account of the relations among exploration, geographical knowledge, and empire, with linkages to orientalism.

  • Irwin, Robert. Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism and Its Discontents. New York: Overlook, 2006.

    A consideration of orientalism from the perspective of a group of sometimes eccentric orientalists.

  • Lockman, Zachary. Contending Visions of the Middle East: The History and Politics of Orientalism. Contemporary Middle East 3. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511606786

    A survey of the development of the West’s knowledge about the Middle East and Islam, beginning with ancient Greece and Rome and continuing to the aftermath of 11 September 2001.

  • Macfie, Alexander L. Orientalism. London: Longman, 2002.

    Historical overview of orientalism, with a focus on European orientalisms and the critical texts of Abdel-Malek, Tibawi, Said, and Turner.

  • Mazumdar, Sucheta, Vasant Kaiwar, and Thierry Labica, eds. From Orientalism to Postcolonialism: Asia, Europe and the Lineages of Difference. Routledge Contemporary Asia 20. London: Routledge, 2011.

    With a theoretical introduction and eight case studies, the book examines key issues of the Enlightenment and orientalism and concepts of identity and difference, in the context of the confrontation between Europe and Asia.

  • Tolmacheva, Marina. “The Medieval Arabic Geographers and the Beginnings of Modern Orientalism.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 27.2 (1995): 141–156.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0020743800061857

    An exploration of orientalism in the West before the establishment of oriental studies as a formal discipline. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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