HIST412 - World's Fairs: Nation, Industry, Empire and Globalization

At the center of the Great Exhibition of 1851, held in London, was the Crystal Palace, a huge glass and steel structure lit by electricity. Inside this display of industrial might, countries from around the world set up booths to demonstrate their own technological and industrial achievements. This was the first World’s fair. World’s fairs continued to be held through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, in cities like Paris, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, and Montreal. This course will trace the history of World’s fairs – beginning with the Great Exhibition of 1851 and ending with the 1967 Expo in Montreal – in order to trace the histories of industry, imperialism, nationalism, and globalization, all of which were represented in the booths and structures of these international exhibitions. In displays, presentations, and through souvenirs, countries show-cased not only their industrial production, but also their imperial power. And the fairs, despite their internationalism, were strongly nationalist, especially in Philadelphia in 1876 and Montreal in 1967: both celebrations of their host country’s centennial. The course will ask questions about what countries were trying to accomplish through their displays at these fairs, and what host cities and countries wanted to gain by hosting these events. By looking at these fairs in detail, we can follow shifts in conceptions of nations and of the world, and ask questions about the role pomp and display play in national and international power. All course assignments will build toward the production of a final research project.
Day and Time: 
M 0500PM-0800PM


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