The growing interest in traveling beyond the Continent during the nineteenth-century, stemmed from the advancing modes of transportation, especially with the modernization of the railroad and regular steamship services from major ports on the Continent to resorts and hotels in Alexandria, Cairo, and Jerusalem. These convenient modes of transportation also allowed entirely new classes of people to travel. The classic Grand Tours of the Continent during the seventeenth and eighteenth-century were undertakings by primarily young, wealthy, and English gentlemen. These English gentlemen would set their sights for places like France, Italy, Greece, and Switzerland to supplement their classical education by acquiring antiquities, socializing with locals, and complaining heavily about the poor manners of the French. As Continental tourism and travel became possible for the middling classes during the mid-nineteenth century, there were serious travelers who tired of "traveling with the millions" (Withey, 1997, p. 140) and they sought out even more remote places to escape to.
Although Thomas Cook established his business by providing popular regional tours for Londoners to places like Liverpool and Scotland, Cook made his name in grand and fashionable tours of Egypt and the Middle East. Cook's steamships were uncomfortable but they were convenient and had comfortable amenities that assuaged fears of new travelers in the East. Those who wanted to travel to the East were enthralled by the fantasies of the Arabian Nights and ruins of mythical Ancient Egypt. They expected to see the Holy Land and Egypt in all of their biblical grandeur but were let down by the crumbling streets and noisy, impoverished crowds. Despite these disappointments, travelers bought souvenirs, wrote, and drew of their exciting experiences for those at home.
With materials drawn from the Wilbour Library of Egyptology at the Brooklyn Museum Libraries and Archives and the American Numismatic Society Library, this exhibition explores the tension between the romanticized imaginations of Egypt and the Middle East and what travelers truly experienced when they stepped off the steamships. This exhibition also showcases the complex and new social hierarchy of Western travelers in the East. Those who traveled luxuriously on dahabeahs looked down at those who traveled by Cook's cheap and fast steamships.