Contemplating Women’s Imperial Service: Mabel Bent as Photographer, Travel Writer, and Collector


  • Esther Wetzel



empire, knowledge production, women travelers, travel writing, photography


Despite a growing body of literature on women’s roles within the British Empire as settlers, teachers, nurses, missionaries, activists, and ‘adventuresses,’ their contribution to Victorian knowledge production remains underexamined. In particular, the labor of married women has often been subsumed under their husband’s work and, as a result, has largely gone unrecognized. Treating them as emblematic of a shadow archive of married women’s cultural production in the late 19th century, I interrogate Mabel Bent’s diaries, photographs, and ethnographic collecting strategies to show that she exercised epistemic power through the imperial practices of representation and appropriation. I locate her productive and reproductive work within a complex web of service relationships between herself, the British Empire, and her husband, and show that while Bent related ambiguously to her service, she exploited it to defy gender conventions without risking her reputation.

Author Biography

Esther Wetzel

Esther Wetzel is a research associate and lecturer at the department of English and American Studies at Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg. She holds a degree in English and American Studies, French Studies, and Education Studies and pursues a PhD in American Cultural Studies. Her research is funded by a government postgraduate grant and interrogates embodiment and identity negotiations in white women’s travel writing from US Pacific territories in the early 20th century.




How to Cite

Wetzel, E. “Contemplating Women’s Imperial Service: Mabel Bent As Photographer, Travel Writer, and Collector”. New American Studies Journal: A Forum, vol. 74, Sept. 2023,

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