Across the World with the Johnsons: Visual Culture and American Empire in the Twentieth Century, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Across the World with the Johnsons

Visual Culture and American Empire in the Twentieth Century, 1st Edition

By Prue Ahrens, Lamont Lindstrom, Fiona Paisley


248 pages

Purchasing Options:$ = USD
Paperback: 9781138272224
pub: 2016-11-28
Hardback: 9781409423294
pub: 2013-10-31

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During the interwar period Osa and Martin Johnson became famous for their films that brought exotic and far-off locations to the American cinema. Before the advent of mass tourism and television, their films played a major part in providing the means by which large audiences in the US and beyond became familiar with distant and 'wild' places across the world. Taking the celebrity of the Johnsons as its case study, this book investigates the influence of these new forms of visual culture, showing how they created their own version of America's imperial drama. By representing themselves as benevolent figures engaged in preserving on film the world's last wild places and peoples, the Johnsons' films educated US audiences about their apparent destiny to rule, contributing significantly to the popularity of empire. Bringing together research in the fields of film and politics - including gender and empire, historical anthropology, photography and visual studies - this book provides a comprehensive evaluation of the Johnsons, their work and its impact. It considers the Johnsons as a celebrity duo, their status as national icons, how they promoted themselves and their expeditions, and how their careers informed American expansionism, thus providing the first scholarly investigation of this remarkable couple and their extensive output over nearly three decades and across several continents.


'… a well-researched and clearly written book that I can see pairing with one of the Johnsons' films in a graduate or undergraduate course. Ahrens, Lindstrom, and Paisley have given their readers a helpful narrative that connects American fantasies about empire to popular culture. And, even more useful, they have done this by focusing on one couple whose drive to film and document the world was both tireless and entertaining.' American Historical Review

'… the book not only offers greater historical context on race and empire but also contributes to understandings of early 20th-century feminism and gender roles …' The Journal of Pacific History

Table of Contents

Contents: Picturing other worlds; Wild places, wild peoples; Osa, ’First Lady of exploration’; No room for sissies; Adventures in the animal kingdom; Celebrity resurrections; References; Index.

About the Series

Empire and the Making of the Modern World, 1650-2000

This monograph series seeks to explore the complexities of the relationships among empires, modernity and global history. In so doing, it wishes to challenge the orthodoxy that the experience of modernity was located exclusively in the west, and that the non-western world was brought into the modern age through conquest, mimicry and association. To the contrary, modernity had its origins in the interaction between the two worlds.

In this sense the imperial experience was not an adjunct to western modernization, but was constitutive of it. Thus the origins of the defining features of modernity - the bureaucratic state, market economy, governance, and so on - have to be sought in the imperial encounter, as do the categories such as race, sexuality and citizenship which constitute the modern individual. This necessarily complicates perspectives on the nature of the relationships between the western and non-western worlds, nation and empire, and 'centre' and 'periphery'.

To examine these issues the series presents work that is interdisciplinary and comparative in its approach; in this respect disciplines including economics, geography, literature, politics, intellectual history, anthropology, science, legal studies, psychoanalysis and cultural studies have much potential, and will all feature. Equally, we consider race, gender and class vital categories to the study of imperial experiences. We aim, therefore, to provide a forum for dialogues among different modes of writing the histories of empires and the modern. Much valuable work on empires is currently undertaken outside the western academy and has yet to receive due attention. This is an imbalance the series intends to address and so we are particularly interested in contributions from such scholars. Also important to us are transnational and comparative perspectives on the imperial experiences of western and non-western worlds.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / Modern / 20th Century