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The Making of the Tourist Gaze: Maritime Panoramas, Watery Spaces and Consumer Experiences at the Black Sea in Late Imperial Russia

Student: Aleksandra Babikova

Supervisor: Aleksandra Bekasova

Faculty: School of Arts and Humanities

Educational Programme: Applied and Interdisciplinary History "Usable Pasts" (Master)

Year of Graduation: 2020

Modern mobility practices were inextricably linked to the formation of a specific tourist gaze, practices of sightseeing, and close observation, which were structured and reproduced, becoming part of a mass visual culture. In the study, I focus on the construction of the ‘tourist gaze’ by analyzing the practices of panoramas production and consumption, and representations of the Black Sea’s watery spaces and consider how they were perceived in late Imperial Russia. How did seascapes, working vessels, and waterfronts become objects of commercialization through the emergence of the tourism and recreational industry in the south of the Russian Empire? Analyzing mass printing material - travel guidebooks with illustrations, landscape and seaside postcards, memoirs, and medical literature dedicated to the resorts’ healthcare description – I examine how the ‘visual optics’ were formed. Moreover, I study how tourist experience(s) of the cruises, water usage was articulated and reflected in the postcards’ letters and memoirs. Focusing on the Black Sea’s maritimity, I analyze what different and even competing ways of perceiving and presenting the sea evolved during the emergence of the tourism industry. Analyzing visual and narrative materials related to the tourism development of the Black Sea coast, I demonstrate how not only the coast became an object of commercialization, but how it was also the sea that largely determined the process of transformation and representation of these places as recreational ones. Both the space of the sea itself and the various practices associated with its usage were commodified. A trip by a steamship, a yacht, a boat, a skiff was represented, in particular, as a source of new experience and impressions. On the one hand, the Black Sea was described as a space of unpredictability and danger, beyond man’s control. On the other hand, for a fee, it was offered to "discover" what seemed so unknown and inaccessible, but very attractive. I demonstrate how various actors framed tourist imaginary spaces, determined possible practices and limitations for tourists onboard the ship, during the excursion, and the choice of modes of transportation. They also invested in the construction and structuring of tourist spaces by determining popular sites and views. Moreover, tourists created their own narratives which reflected their personal impressions of the sea and the coast and the emotions associated with them, so that they contributed to the making of the gaze. Thus, there was a multiplicity of actors and tourist gazes which made a variety of narratives intersected to construct different tourist spaces within the same Black Sea region towards the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.

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