Ali Behdad is John Charles Hillis Professor of Literature and chair of the English Department at the University of California, Los Angeles. His books include Belated Travelers: Orientalism in the Age of Colonial Dissolution (Duke, 1994) and A Forgetful Nation: On Immigration and Cultural Identity in the United States (Duke, 2005). Luke Gartlan is a lecturer in the School of Art History at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. His recent publications include “‘Bronzed and Muscular Bodies’: Jinrikishas, Tattooed Bodies, and Yokohama Photography,” in Transculturation in British Art, 1770 –1930 (Ashgate, 2012). He is also editor designate (2013 –14) of the journal History of Photography.
One of the most highly regarded books of its kind, On Photography first appeared in 1977 and is described by its author as "a progress of essays about the meaning and career of photographs." It begins with the famous "In Plato's Cave"essay, then offers five other prose meditations on this topic, and concludes with a fascinating and far-reaching "Brief Anthology of Quotations."
Behdad shows how political, cultural, and legal texts have articulated American anxiety about immigration from the Federalist period to the present day. He reads texts both well-known—J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer, Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass—and lesser-known—such as the writings of nineteenth-century nativists and of public health officials at Ellis Island. In the process, he highlights what is obscured by narratives and texts celebrating the United States as an open-armed haven for everyone: the country’s violent beginnings, including its conquest of Native Americans, brutal exploitation of enslaved Africans, and colonialist annexation of French and Mexican territories; a recurring and fierce strand of nativism; the need for a docile labor force; and the harsh discipline meted out to immigrant “aliens” today, particularly along the Mexican border.