20th Century Smoking Culture

In 1905 Alexandria, The Egyptian Gazette consisted of a vast quantity of diverse information. On one end of the spectrum, you had instances of local community reports about robberies, and local sporting events. At a wider view, the newspaper contained articles about the Egyptian economy, and world-wide events. While this is a great characteristic of generally any newspaper, for the purpose of the final project, the over abundance of diverse information made the process of choosing a serial question to research moderately difficult.

Before I decided on a definite serial question, I figured it would be worthwhile to familiarize myself with the process of querying. I wanted to ensure that when it came time to conduct research for my analysis, I would be able to search through the XML contents efficiently, and productively. In the process, I hoped to come up with a serial question. While the Xpath feature in Oxygen seemed complicated and somewhat foreign at first, I quickly came to one realization: the simpler the better. I started off with a basic query, //div[@type="item"]. This allowed me to see all of the item divisions within each XML file, and from there I figured I could analyze the information within. However, I soon came to realize that more often than not, one item div contained multiple paragraphs of varying information, and I knew if I wanted to research more efficiently, I would need to find a more defined and targeted search query.

From there, I employed the //div[@type="item"][contains(., '')] query. I started inputting random, but logically acquired words to search for within each div. At this point, I pondered the interesting nature of researching how Egypt and the United States of America interacted in 1905. I used //div[@type="item"][contains(., 'United States')]to find all of the instances where “United States” was used in each item division. Although this query did return a significantly manageable amount of results, after brief analysis, I concluded that each result was typically completely unrelated to the last result. The most recurring instance of “United States” was within the mention of transportation boats traveling between Egypt and the U.S., but I could not envision completing a complete serial analysis about just that.

After hours of trial and error through the process of querying The Egyptian Gazette, I began to feel that all of the results I derived from querying were either far too vast, or far too limited to conduct valid analysis. However, it was at this time that I reflected on prior research that I conducted in this course. I wrote my first blog post on a cigarette advertisement, and I remember feeling very curious about how different cigarette culture must have been back in 1905. So, naturally, I came up with what I thought was an intriguing serial question. What was smoking culture like in 1905 Alexandria?

Foremost, I queried the contents of The Egyptian Gazette with //div[@type="item"][contains(., 'cigarette')]. This allowed me to view each instance where the word cigarette was used, and in what context. The results that followed suit were varied and of significant interest. Initially, I speculated that the mention of “cigarette” would come mainly within cigarette company advertisements throughout the Gazette. After looking at the results of my query, I came to the conclusion that there were numerous direct advertisements for various cigarette companies, however just because a cigarette company was mentioned does not mean that they were directly casting an advertisement. By this, I mean that many instances of cigarette company mentions were just reviews on the direction and standing of specific companies. Lots of economics talk came into play here.

At this point in my research I decided to start counting how many times the mention of “cigarette” and smoking-related terms showed up throughout 1905 in The Egyptian Gazette. This stemmed from the thought that numerical analysis of smoke-related term occurrence would prove to show insight into the popularity of cigarettes, and the culture revolving around cigarettes in Alexandria. In essence, I came to the hypothesis that the mentions of smoking-related terms within The Gazette would positively correlate with the popularity and acceptance of cigarettes within society during the time period this newspaper was written. Below is a graph depicting the amount of times three specific smoking-related terms were used throughout the entirety of The Gazette in 1905. Despite my initial thoughts, the words queried did not appear as many times as I assumed they would throughout the newspaper. Despite this, I still imagined that there was a prevalent culture revolved around smoking in Alexandria, Egypt in the early 1900’s.

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From here, I decided to begin to narrow in on my research and start analyzing more specific aspects. I remembered, from my research for my blog post, that the Cleopatra Cigarette Co. was a newly founded company in Alexandria in 1905. So I decided to try to trace the growth of this company to the best of my ability through the use of querying the XML contents of The Gazette. Using this search query, //div[@type="item"][contains(., 'Cleopatra Cigarette Co.')], I discovered that the Cleopatra Cigarette Company was mentioned 42 times in this fashion throughout the year. 41 of these results were the same exact advertisement for the Cleopatra Cigarette Co. This proved to me that this company was significant in Alexandria. I then moved on to the search query //div[@type="item"][contains(., 'Cleopatra')][contains(., 'cigarette')] in an effort to refine my search. This specific query allowed me to find the instances in which the words Cleopatra and Cigarette were used within the same item div.

The very first mention of the Cleopatra Cigarette Company came on the 13th day of January. In essence, The Egyptian Gazette wrote an article on the current standing of the company. Founded by Nungovich Bey and Mr. Constantine Meimarachi just months prior, the Cleopatra Cigarette Co. was making an impact as a cigarette manufacturer of excellent quality and moderate price. Furthermore, the paper claims that the cigarettes are on sale at all the Nungovich hotels, as well as at the branches of Walker and Meimarachi at Cairo and Alexandria, and the principal hotels in Europe and America. This goes to show that within just months, the Cleopatra Cigarette Company became a dominating manufacturer, selling their product as far as Europe and America. The next significant mention of this company came on April 12, 1905. The instance of mention here is somewhat odd, as I addressed in my first blog post for this course. “Here, the Egyptian Gazette, on page three of this issue, is pushing the reader to check out an advertisement for the Cleopatra Cigarette Company, just in case they skimmed over it while reading page one just moments before. In essence, not only does the ‘Gazette’ advertise for this cigarette company on the very first page of their newspaper, but they also refer the reader back to that advertisement in a later section of the paper, and in doing so, they are essentially advertising for Cleopatra Cigarettes two times in one issue.” This proves that modern societies views on cigarettes were very accepting in 1905, and that newspapers had no problem advertising for cigarette companies, sometimes even advertising multiple times in one issue. The final mention of significance for the Cleopatra Cigarette Company came just 14 days later than the last. In this instance, The Gazette writes that the company has been “appointed purveyors of their high class cigarettes to H.H. the Khedive.” Being such a high honor in Alexandrian society, this final claim points out that in about half of a year, the Cleopatra Cigarette Company became a dominant supplier of cigarettes, and became a well respected, well earned company. Throughout the remainder of The Egyptian Gazette, the mentions of the Cleopatra Cigarette Co. come primarily in the form of the same exact advertisement. Thus, adding to the fact that the company must have established themselves more prominently in the industry throughout 1905, becoming more popular to the people of Alexandria, and even to the people of foreign countries.

In all, it is clear to conclude that cigarettes and smoking in general were aspects of life that people did not seem to contest. The fact that newspapers in 1905 advertised for tobacco products is beautifully juxtaposed with today’s view on tobacco products. Generally speaking, as a society in 2016, we tend to shun tobacco products and even promote advertisement campaigns advertising against cigarettes and tobacco use. It is interesting to analyze the culture of cigarettes in Alexandria throughout 1905 with a micro view because it gives you a better idea of what the World’s opinion on cigarettes must have been at the time.

Alexander Caliendo
Alexander Caliendo

The author, a student at Florida State University, was enrolled in the digital microhistory lab in fall 2016.