Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 December 2013
When in 1927 the Czech Egyptologist Ludmila Matiegková (1889–1960) set out with fellow travel companions for Egypt to marvel at its ancient culture, she was confronted with her role as a tourist, a European, a woman, a scholar, and a Czech. Even though her published travelogue did not explicitly discuss her national identity or what it meant to be a Czech in Cairo, it still produced an implicit and ambivalent picture of Czech identity in a colonial setting: while Ludmila Matiegková painted a picture of the “magic of the Orient” that seems to reproduce general orientalist topoi, she distanced herself at the same time from those with whom she shared these figures of thought, namely, European colonial society in Egypt.
This ambivalent position, present in Czech travelogues from across the so-called Orient, will be at the center of this chapter as it discusses a form of orientalism that is not based on direct or explicit colonial interests or overseas possessions. It argues, rather, for a “noncolonial orientalism”: by concentrating on Czech travelers and their travelogues on the Orient in the five decades surrounding the end of the First World War and the founding of the Czechoslovak Republic in 1918, the chapter reconstructs a specific mode of “orientalizing” the Orient, which occurred outside of any direct colonial power relations.