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Imagined Cosmopolis

Internationalism and Cultural Exchange, 1870s–1920s


Edited By Charlotte Ashby, Grace Brockington, Daniel Laqua and Sarah Victoria Turner

The period from the 1870s to the 1920s was marked by an interplay between nationalisms and internationalisms, culminating in the First World War, on the one hand, and the creation of the League of Nations, on the other. The arts were central to this debate, contributing both to the creation of national traditions and to the emergence of ideas, objects and networks that forged connections between nations or that enabled internationalists to imagine a different world order altogether. The essays presented here explore the ways in which the arts operated internationally during this crucial period of nation-making, and how they helped to challenge national conceptions of citizenship, society, homeland and native tongue. The collection arises from the AHRC-funded research network Internationalism and Cultural Exchange, 1870–1920 (ICE; 2009–2014) and its enquiry into the histories of cultural internationalism and their historiographical implications.

This collection has been edited by members of the ICE network convened by Grace Brockington and Sarah Victoria Turner.

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7. Boston as Museum: Cosmopolitan Constructions of Japan (Christopher Reed)


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7   Boston as Museum: Cosmopolitan Constructions of Japan

Boston, Massachusetts, is not the largest city in the United States. It is not a national capital, a global financial centre, or home to an industry known around the world, and its Anglo-Saxon ruling class at the turn of the twentieth century was famously insular. Yet Boston’s distinctive local culture was premised on a fantasy of cosmopolitanism. Bostonians’ nickname for their city is ‘The Hub’ (as in of the universe),1 and their moniker for their upper crust, the ‘Boston Brahmins’, invokes a hereditary caste system a world away. Both terms were coined in the mid-nineteenth century by Oliver Wendell Holmes writing in Boston’s pre-eminent periodical, The Atlantic Monthly. And both remain current today. Key to the idea of Boston as ‘Hub’– the calm centre around which everywhere else turns – is belief in its status as an authoritative seat of judgement positioned between East and West. This ideology emerged in the latter half of the nineteenth century as Boston’s elites seized upon the ‘opening’ of Japan to lay claim to an idea of non-Western aristocracy that could balance the intimidating authority of European high culture. ← 145 | 146 →

The Bostonians’ investments – ideological and financial – in Japan as evidence of their own cosmopolitanism have significance far beyond Boston. They shaped the way the West constructed its knowledge of the East, and, through the processes known as Occidentalism and reverse-Orientalism, the way Japan...

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