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Professor's Chance Local Find
Leads to International Presentation

Posted July 28, 1999

          HOLLAND -- A chance find at a local flea market
  ultimately led a Hope College professor to an international
  conference held in South Africa recently.
          Dr. Neal Sobania, who is director of international
  education and a professor of history at Hope, was among
  those who made presentations during "Encounters with
  Photography:  Photographing people in southern Africa, 1860
  to 1999," held in Cape Town, South Africa, on Wednesday-
  Saturday, July 14-17.
          Sobania presented "Stereoscopic Imagery in Support
  of a Colonial Project, South West Africa, 1905."  His talk
  focused on a set of photographs taken in German colonial
  Africa, in present-day Namibia.
          The images are stereoscopic slides, which feature
  two nearly-identical images next to one another on a card
  intended to be seen through a hand-held viewer, creating a
  three-dimensional effect.  According to Sobania, the
  stereoscopic viewer was introduced in London at the Crystal
  Palace Exhibition of 1851, and by the turn of the century
  was so popular that millions of images were produced
  annually for public sale.
          Sobania's interest in stereoscopic images of
  Africa began locally and unexpectedly at an antique fair in
  Allegan County, when he discovered a set depicting gold
  mining in colonial South Africa.  A specialist in African
  history who holds a doctorate in African social and economic
  history from the University of London, he initially acquired
  them for use as a teaching aid in his Hope courses on
  African history, but found them intriguing enough to also
  investigate the genre as a researcher.
          He has continued to collect stereoscopic slides in
  the years since.  His talk at the conference focused on a
  more-recent acquisition:  a 100-card set of stereoscopic
  slides titled "Deutsch-Sudwest-Afrika" (German South West
  Africa), which he purchased from an international dealer
  about six years ago.
          Taken in 1904 and 1905 by a professional
  photographer and published by Leo Donnevert of Saarlouis,
  Germany, the slides show a variety of scenes.  Many are
  military-themed with titles like "Laundry room of the Marine
  Field Hospital in Okahandja 1904," "Mountain artillery after
  the battle near Onganjira 1904" and "Colonial Troops
  detachment on the march."
          According to Sobania, the content of such slide
  sets could be carefully crafted to convey a specific
  message.  He noted that photographs from turn-of-the-century
  European colonies, for example, tended to emphasize that
  colonial powers were a positive influence.
          "What was presented and what was absent provided a
  clear sense and message to those in the colonial empire that
  Africa and its people would benefit from the 'civilizing'
  influence of the West," he said.  "Since stereographs
  catered to a popular audience, this created world was made
  available to millions for visual inspection."
          The conference was organized by The South African
  Museum and The University of Cape Town.  The keynote address
  was "Photography and the Performance of History," by
  Elizabeth Edwards of the Pitt Rivers Museum of Oxford,
  England.  Other talks ranged from "Africa Obscura:
  Representation, Identity and Control," to "'Interesting and
  Picturesque':  staging encounters for the British
  Association in South Africa, 1905" and "Terrible Truths:
  The rise and fall of photography as scientific medium in the
  field of ethnography."
          The event featured presentations by scholars from
  around the world, including South Africa, Australia,
  England, Finland, Germany, Scotland, Switzerland and Wales.
  Sobania was one of four experts from the United States who
  made presentations.
  -30-
  


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