Review of François Pouillon, ed., Dictionnaire des orientalistes de langue française. Paris: Karthala, 2008, xxii-1007 p.
François Pouillon and 190 collaborators have done a great service to the humanities with their Dictionnaire des orientalistes. This monumental work provides biographical and bibliographical information about the thousands of scholars, artists, travelers, and writers who wrote about, painted, and studied the Orient (stretching from North Africa in the West to China and Japan in the East) from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries. Though limited to francophone Orientalists (including “natives” of France, Belgium, Switzerland, etc., as well as authors from imperial territories), this dictionary will nonetheless prove an essential resource to students and scholars in History, Art History, Anthropology, and related fields. In particular, the dictionary offers extensive entries detailing the lives and work of those involved in literary and artistic representations of the “exotic” East. By also including information on those Orientalists more directly concerned with political and historical studies, the dictionary puts Orientalist artists and writers into the broader context of Europe’s contact with the non-Western world. As a whole, the dictionary demonstrates the complex nature of Oriental studies, which has largely been overshadowed by popular condemnation in the wake of Edward Said’s book on the subject. This dictionary shows that Orientalism, while intimately tied to the colonial period, was also a field which encompassed a broad range of viewpoints and which was constituted by a highly diverse group of actors. Entries range from “famous” painters and authors to more obscure figures, such as dragomen and colonial administrators, who quietly contributed to representing the region. Beyond its usefulness as a reference work, it reclaims the history of interaction between Europe and the Orient as a subject worthy of serious reconsideration.
Jessica Marglin, Princeton/EHESS, Paris, March 11, 2009