Seonaid Rogers

Site-seeing: postcards of the Middle East and the visual construction of place, 1890s to 1990s

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council

This project explores the collection of postcards from the British Museum’s Middle East department to examine the construction of place and identity.

Start Date: October 2015
End Date: October 2018
Theme: The 'lives' of objects from their making, use, reception, loss, collection and later use and understanding
Research discipline: Visual culture, Fine and decorative arts, Museum studies
Locations: Middle East
Staff member: St John Simpson
Department: Department of the Middle East
University and department: Department of History, University of Nottingham
University supervisor: Nick Baron, Maiken Umbach

How did images on postcards of the Middle East evolve over time, and how did changes relate to wider political, social, cultural and economic shifts?

During my research I hope to answer this question through an analysis of the archive of postcards from the region in the British Museum.

Can patterns in the purchase, circulation and collection of postcards over time be identified, in the context of wider historical changes?

Throughout the project, I will answer this question with an examination of the Museum’s collection, along with evidence from contemporary sources.

What can these patterns and changes tell us about the postcard as an indicator of place and identity?

Examining research around identity, memory and the diaspora, as well as collating the results of my archival research will help me to answer this question during my research.

About my research

This project examines the production and use of postcards from the Middle East as both examples of visual culture and as material objects. By analyzing these postcards, I hope to show how a sense of place and identity is constructed and communicated.

By researching the British Museum’s collection of postcards from the region, I will ask how certain views of places of landscapes become iconic, and how these images evolve in the context of wider political, social and economic changes.


Modern postcards on sale in the Old City, Jerusalem, August 2014


Old postcards for sale in a New York flea-market, April 2013

Aims of my research

As both ‘sites’ and ‘sights’ throughout the Middle East transform and disappear in a time of ongoing conflict throughout the region, documenting them becomes more important than ever.

Drawing on the postcard collection itself, I will establish patterns and tropes, in order to discover the representative quality of the collection. Alongside a visual and archival study of the postcards, the project will require that I examine the socio-political shifts in the Middle East around the times the postcards were purchased, written and sent, as well as attitudes in the recipient countries. In doing so, links between the postcard as visual memory-maker, political indicator and place-maker can be established.

About my research

The British Museum can't wait to get your postcards