Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Open Access Thesis


Africa--Public opinion--History; Africa--In popular culture--History; United States--Civilization--19th century; United States--Civilization--20th century;


During the late nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries in the United States, images of Africa and Africans were prevalent throughout society. Africans were described as primitive or child-like and were contrasted with the so-called high civilization of middle-class Anglo-Saxons. This thesis will look at these images and attempt to complicate the current historiography on United States images of Africa. Furthering Jackson Lears’s theories of antimodernism in Progressive Era United States, I argue that the images produced of Africa and Africans were attempts at regeneration and intense experiences. Due to the huge progress made due to the Industrial Revolution and the urbanization of American society, modern, white, middle-class Anglo Saxons at the end of the nineteenth century began to feel that they were the victims of civilization. Victorian values and over consumption led to a culture of self-repression and weightlessness. According to Lears, the consequence of this overcivilized society was a desire to escape their urban prisons through intense experiences. This manifested itself in four ways. First, in the craft aesthetic, or the idea that hand-made folk art was better than something mass produced. Second, in an attraction to the occult and to magic; an attraction to the unexplained mysteries of human existence and the world. Third, in the martial idea, or the idea that war, combat, or physical self-testing would make men stronger and more vibrant. Finally, in the nature cure, which believed that by getting in touch with nature, one could unleash authentic forces within themselves and get over their neurasthenia. I apply these manifestations of antimodernism to images of Africa in the period between 1880 and 1910. Looking at National Geographic Magazine, the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, and Teddy Roosevelt’s 1909 safari trip to Africa, I contend that the images of Africa were used as an escape from the “colorless” life of modern society and to regenerate the self-repressed Anglo-Saxon race. I argue that in an antimodern attempt to escape the overcivilized, consumer-driven city, middle-class Americans packaged, produced, and bought images of Africa.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Department of History

First Advisor

Brian Roberts

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (v, 87 pages)



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