I Didn’t Invent Victorientalism

An Arab man in Jerusalem (Life)
An Arab man in Jerusalem (Life)

There seems to be some confusion over the origin of “Victorientalism,” considered a subgenre of steampunk at this blog and which was the topic of the March 2010 edition of the Gatehouse Gazette.

A post that’s making the rounds on Tumblr and seems to have originated here alleges that I “coined” the phrase. I didn’t.

I don’t care to comment on the rest of the post, which pretends to warn steampunk fans against “problematic subculture celebs” (although I should glad to be considered a celebrity, I suppose). But I do care to set the record straight.

The earliest use of the word “Victorientalism” I’ve been able to find was in Erin O’Conner’s “Preface for a Post-Postcolonial Criticism,” originally published in Victorian Studies 45, 2 (2003) and later in Theory’s Empire: An Anthology of Dissent (2005). It considered Victorientalism a sort of cultural imperialism and described it in the following terms:

[T]he mining of a distant, exotic, threatening but fascinating literature to produce and establish a singularly self-serving body of knowledge elsewhere, a body of knowledge that ultimately has more to tell us about the needs of its producers than about its ostensible subject matters.

The first time, I think, it appeared in steampunk was in 2006 when a role-playing game called Steampunk Musha spoke of “Victoriental adventures.” Their website is offline but can still be found through the Internet Archive.

I wouldn’t be surprised if a more thorough investigation unearthed more uses of the phrase before Gatehouse Gazette #11 was published. At the time, “Victorientalism,” whether it was called as such or not, seemed to be becoming popular — which is why we devoted an entire issue of the magazine to it in the first place. Not to propagandize some subversion of steampunk we had ourselves concocted.

By all means, criticize me for defending Victorientalism. But please have your facts straight.

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