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Robert W. Rydell &

Nancy E. Gwinn,
eds. Fair
World's Fairs
and the Modern
(Amsterdam : VU
University Press,


Burton Benedict

World's fairs can be seen as giant rituals-competitive national displays

on a defined stage for a limited period. Major powers vie with each other
to present fairs, although there is an international body which tries, rather
unsuccessfully, to regulate such competition. Among the tokens of rivalry
were colonies and their peoples. World's fairs showed the power of the
imperial nation and were meant to impress both foreigners and the home
population. 1 Yet concentration on power relationships makes it is easy to
forget that a chief reason for attending a world's fair is to be entertained.
The popularity of exhibits of colonized peoples was not just about power
relationships. Visitors flocked to them out of curiosity and because they
wanted to learn about the way people from foreign lands lived, the skills
they possessed and the objects they produced.
Showing living people and their artifacts fed into existing ethnic
stereotypes, which world's fairs both elaborated and modified. During
nearly 150 years of world's fairs, ethnic stereotypes, gradually altered,
moving from manifestations of Buro-American superiority and imperialism
towards expressions of nationalism in new nations. In this process new
traditions were invented that incorporated elements from old cultural
traditions, from former colonial masters, and from newer nationalisms. 2
A characteristic of ethnic stereotypes often cited by social scientists is
their rigidity. They are stubbornly maintained in the face of conflicting
evidence (e.g., "Some of my best friends are Jews"). Stereotypes also oversimplify (e.g., "All Blacks are stupid"). Over the course of many world's

1 For an analysis of world's fairs as rituals see Burton Benedict et aI., The Anthropology
of World's Fairs.: San Francisco's Panama-Pacific International Exposition 1915 (Berkeley:
Lowie Museum of Anthropology and Scolar Press, 1983), 6-12. Accounts of the power
relationships manifested in world's fairs can be found in Robert Rydell, All the World's a Fair:
Visions of Empire at American International Expositions, 1876-1916 (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1984); A.E.S. Coombes, "For God and for England: Contributions to an Image
of Africa in the First Decade of the Twentieth Century," Art History 8 (1985); John M.
Mackenzie, Propaganda and Empire: the Manipulation of British Public Opinion 1880-1960
(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985); and Paul Greenhalgh, Ephemeral Vistas:
The Expositions Universelles, Great Exhibitions and World's Fairs, 1851-1939 (Manchester:
Manchester University Press, 1988).
2 See introductory essay in Eric Hobsbawm and Terrance Ranger, eds., The Invention
of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).



fairs, ethnic stereotypes became both less rigid and less simple. They were
elaborated and modified and acquired quite new meanings. They moved
from the display of a few ethnic types as oddities to the portrayal of many
different cultural traditions. These traditions were not always old; they were
sometimes invented; and they acquired new referents on the world's fair
stage, but their very proliferation militated against the simplifying nature
of stereotyping.
Displaying People and Their Artifacts

Few pastimes are more amusing than looking at other people. A study of
visitor behavior in public parks shows that people spend more time looking
at each other than at the beauties of nature. If the people observed differ
in some striking fashion from the observer, interest is further stimulated.
For centuries, entrepreneurs and showmen have been charging admission
to see human oddities.
Three ways of displaying people and their artifacts are central for the
analysis of colonial exhibits at world's fairs: the display of people and their
artifacts as curiosities, as artisans with their products, and as trophies or
The display of people and/or their artifacts as curiosities has a long
history deriving from fairs, carnivals and side shows. Objects are shown
that are unfamiliar to the audience and preferably concern the shedding
of blood. For people on show, ph ysiological characteristics are em phasized
-enormous girth, armlessness, dwarfishness, hairiness. Often, however,
the physiological characteristic is a difference in ethnicity-the wild man
from Borneo, the hairy Ainu, the pygmy, the cannibal from Dahomey. Note
that in the last case the criterion is behavioral. It is not just his pigmentation; it is what he eats. Behavioral "freaks" can be created from one's
own culture, especially if eating is involved---sword swallowers, fire eaters,
people who chew glass. The main aim of the exhibition of curiosities is
commercial. People have to pay to see them.
The display of people as artisans emphasizes the continuity of ethnic

3 The ethologist, Desmond Morris, has examined the human propensity for looking at other
humans. See especially his Manwatching (New York: Ahrams, 1977). For an examination of
behavior in parks and other public places see N.H. Cheek and W.R. Burch, Jr., The Social
Organization of Leisure in Human Society (New York: Harper and Row, 1977) and Erving
Goffman, Behavior in Public Places (New York: The Free Press, 1963). Accounts of the
exhibition of exotic humans in London from 1600 to 1862 can be found in Richard D. A1tick,
The Shows of London (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978). An account of
American displays of human oddities can be found in Robert Bogdan, Freak Show: Presenting
Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988). On
types ot:.human displays at world's fairs, see Benedict, Anthropology, 43-45.



or cultural differences even where the artisan comes from the same broad
culture as most visitors, e.g., for Westerners-Irish lace-makers, Italian
glassblowers, Shaker furniture makers. Artisans are often dressed in traditional costumes. The principal aim here is also commercial. Although the
emphasis is on the products, showing people helps sell them. The people
on show and their products form a unit.
In the displays of people and/ or their artifacts as trophies or booty won
by conquest, the power relationship is naked. The conqueror displays the
conquered and/or his arms. Greeks and Romans displayed their captives;
so did Saddam Hussein when he showed British captives on television on
August 23, 1990, at the time of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. An ethnic
element is often involved because those conquered usually come from a different society. Geronimo was shown at three American fairs. The main aim
here is political, whether what is shown is in a trophy cabinet, a museum,
a zoo, a prison, a world's fair or on television.
These three types of display are amalgamated and ritualized in world's
fairs. A more recent fourth way is the display of people and/or their artifacts as scientific specimens. This often masks their display as curiosities
or trophies. At both the Chicago fair of 1893 and the St. Louis fair of 1904
"villages" ofliving peoples were placed in the fairgrounds in what were supposed to be evolutionary sequences from the most 'primitive," usually shown
as pygmies or Philippine Igorots, to the more "advanced," who approximated
Euro-American physical type and culture.
Power relations are often combined with and sometimes disguised by
amusements or displays of crafts. In some displays this is deliberate, but
we must beware of thinking that every exhibit is the result of a conspiracy,
that every time we put some object on show in a museum or some person
on show on a stage, or making a pot, power relations are being manifested.
There are many reasons for people and things being on show, and not all
have to do with power.
The display of people is essentially theatrical and can be analyzed in
theatrical terms. There is the setting which can be the fabricated village,
the craftsman's workshop, the showman's stage. There are the props which
include modes of dress, makeup, furniture, weapons, tools, etc. There is
the performance itself-dancing, singing, drama, sporting contests,
hunting, eating, religious ceremonies, the fashioning of objects, etc. Finally
there is the interpretation furnished by labels, brochures, catalogues,
programs and/or a narrator. The performances became rituals, stylized
verbal and motor behavior that is habitual or customary in a particular social
environment. Such rituals created or perpetuated ethnic stereotypes. Some
were linked to existing stereotypes of ethnic minorities in the the countries
giving the fairs. In the United States, for example, the stereotypes of Africans from Africa fed into or sometimes took their reference from
stereotypes of African - Americans. Examples can be seen in caricatures that
appeared in the press at the time of the fairs. Such stereotypes served to



simplify and distance the peoples on display from their audiences and by
extension from the societies from which the performers came. This was
particularly the case in British and American fairs where visitors observed
people on display from behind barriers. It was less true in France where
visitors could mingle with the people on show.4
Colonial Pavilions
Nearly all the sponsoring nations of world's fairs were colonial powers:
Britain, France, Belgium, Holland and the United States, the latter showing
its overseas possessions acquired after the Spanish-American War as well
as the internally colonized Native Americans. Even countries that were
themselves colonies, such as Canada, India, New Zealand, Australia, IndoChina and South Africa, exhibited their dependencies. Though all colonial
powers stressed the economic ad vantages to be gained from their colonies
by showing the raw materials and crafts they produced, along with what
the metropolitan powers concei ved to be their enlightened policies toward
their colonial dependents, there were significant national differences in the
ways imperial powers displayed their colonies.
The first world's fair in the Crystal Palace in London in 1851 and succeeding early world's fairs were housed in a single large building in which
there were sections for each colony. They were usually decorated in indigenous styles to attract attention and often displayed stuffed animals arid
models or miniature dioramas of native life. By the time of the Centennial
Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, fairs could no longer be contained in
a single structure. There were buildings for each class of manufacture such
as machinery, food and agriculture, liberal arts, etc. These too often had
colonial sections displaying appropriate products. The multiplication of
buildings led to the growth of national and state pavilions, and by the Paris
fair of 1889 to separate colonial pavilions. Like the colonial displays in
earlier fairs, they were designed and managed by Westerners. Colonial
pavilions soon took on vernacular architectural styles-an Indian palace
in the Mughal style or a West African mud fort. A single architectural

4 Pride of place for the theatrical metaphor belongs to Shakespeare's As You Like It ("All
the world's a stage .... "), but the metaphor has become well established as role theory in
anthropology and sociology notably by the writings of Erving Goffman, The Presentation of
Selfin Everyday Life (New York; Doubleday, 1959); Encounters (Indianapolis; Bobbs Merrill,
1961); Interaction Ritual (New York: Doubleday, 1967); Stategic Interaction (Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1969). There is an extensive anthropologicialliterature on
ritual; see Edmund R. Leach, "Ritual," International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (New
York: Macmillan, 1968). The definition used here derives from Meyer Fortes, "Religious Premises
and Logical Technique in Divinatory Ritual," Philosophical Transactionsof the Royal Society
of London Series B, no. 772, vol. 251 (1966): 409.





representation stood for all the cultures that might be found within a single
colony. It symbolized the colony as a whole and can be seen as a symbolic
precursor to the growth of nationalism within colonies, although this was
clearly not the intention of the colonizers. Such buildings became ritualized
settings, invented traditions, which continued to represent these countries
in post-independence world's fairs. 5

The idols at the 1867 Paris Exposition. Christian images are absent. (From
L'Exposition Universelle de 1867111ustree, ed. F. Ducuing. Paris, 1867)

Displays of Objects

Artifacts alone can create an impression of a culture. Europeans brought

back the weapons of those they had conquered and colonized. These objects
were entirely torn from their original contexts and arranged in patterns at
international and colonial exhibitions. As Barbara M. Benedict has pointed
out, such collections "celebrate the collector's power to subdue the meanings
of objects into his own meaning, and to turn things to be used into things
to be looked at." Such arrays of objects tended to promote and rigidify a
stereotype of warlike savages and gave the impression of an unchanging
primitive culture. The idea of unchanging primitiveness was also fostered
by displays of simple agricultural tools and domestic implements and by
static models and dioramas of dwellings and occupational pursuits. Such
exhibits are still common in museums and have come under increasing
criticism in recent years. 6 [SEE PHOTO 2.1]

5 On differences in display in Britain, France and the United States see Greenhalgh,
Ephemeral Vistas, 82-142, and Burton Benedict, "International Exhibitions and National
Identity," Anthropology Today 7 (1991): 5-9.
6 BarbaraM. Benedict, "The 'Curious Attitude' in Eighteenth-Century Britain: Observing
and Owning," Eighteenth Century, 14 (1990): 75. On the use of Objects to assert colonial power
with special reference to Fiji, see Nicholas Thomas, "Material Culture and Colonial Power:
Ethnological Collecting and the Establishment of Colonial Rule in Fiji," Man 24 (1989). James
Clifford has written on the notions of coUecting cultures as appropriation in his 'Objects and
Selves---;An Afterword,' in Objects and Others: Essays on Museums and Material Culture,
ed. George Stocking, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), 236-46, later expanded
in his Predicament of Culture: Twentieth Century Ethnography. Literature. and Art
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988), 21S-Sl. AdrienneL. Kaeppler points to
the use of displayed objects to create timeless cultural others in her "Museums of the World:
Stages for the Study of Ethnohistory" in Museum Studies in Material Culture, ed. Susan M.
Pearce, (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1989), 83-96. Sally Price in Primitive Art in
Civilized Places (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989) examines the consequences of
the transfer of cultural objects from their indigenous surroundings into museums. Many of the
essays in Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display. Ivan Karp and
Steven D. Lavine, cds. (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991) critically
examine the politics of museum display.






Amusement Zones

Chang, the Chinese Giant, with his wife and a Chinese dwarf at the 1867
Paris Exposition. Chang was later exhibited in the U.S. by P.T. Barnum.
(From L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustree ed. F. Ducuing. Paris,

The amusement zone can be seen as a kind of counter-fair in which order

is replaced by jumble and instruction by entertainment. The inipressive
buildings in classical or Beaux Arts style give way to gimcrack structures
in every conceivable style. Instead of contemplating the latest locomotive,
the visitor is invited to ride the Ferris wheel. The main fair purported to
deal with the real world (albeit idealized) with exhibits which would affect
people's future. The amusement zone dealt with fantasy where the pleasure
of the moment reigned supteme.
There were no amusement zones in the early world's fairs in London
(1851), Dublin (1853), Paris (1855), Vienna (1873) or Philadelphia (1876),
though plenty of showmen set up on the periphery of the fairs, and theaters
and spectacles, including the exhibition of human curiosities, had record
seasons in the host cities. Showmen played up the notion of native peoples
as freaks, emphasizing their curiosity value by dressing them in "native"
costume (or hardly any 'costume) and having them perform war dances,
marriage ceremonies or other actions which would attract an audience.
Before long such shows crept into world's fairs, especially when it was
discovered that they they were money-makers.
The first people put on display at world's fairs seem to have been
physiological curiosities. Chang the Chinese giant appeared at the Paris
Exposition of 1867. [SEE PHOTO 2.2] He was shown in an engraving
standing next to his normal-size wife and a Chinese dwarf. His size was
more important than his ethnicity. He was taken up by P.T. Barnum whose
1881 printed handout increased Chang's size to such an extent that he was
depicted holding a seated girl on his outstretched hand. As late as 1934 he
was still being cited as a curiosity, able to write his name on a wall eleven
feet above the floor. It was not long before the display of people whose only
peculiarity was a difference in ethnicity became a standard feature on
world's fair midways.7

People on Show
An imperfect survey of fifty-seven international and colonial exhibitions
reveals that living peoples from sixty-seven colonies or parts of colonies
were exhibited between 1867 and 1986. During this same period living
people from sixteen independent nations or parts of nations were also shown
(see Appendix).

7 For Chang, see Fr. Ducuing, ed., L'Exposition Universellede 186711Iustree, vol. 1 (Paris,
1867): 350-52; Bogdan, Freak Show, 99; and Robert L. Ripley, Ripley's Believe It or Not (New
York: Garden City, 1934), 199.





Sub-Saharan Africans were exhibited more than twice as frequently as

peoples from any other part of the world. They were followed by South Sea
Islanders, people of Southeast Asia, South Asia, North Africa and Native
Americans and Eskimos. The French exhibited their colonial dependents
most frequently, followed by the British and, at some distance, the Americans.
The supposed characteristics of third world peoples promulgated at
world's fairs combined a number of features. Foremost was foreignness and
strangeness. Linked to this were primitiveness and simplicity. A third
characteristic was barbarity and savageness. At the same time as savagery
was emphasized individuals on display were often described as chiefs or
kings or princes, implying some sort of social order in their societies of
origin, but also showing the power of Westerners who could even put chiefs
on show.
Such exhibits promoted ethnic stereotypes, for what was being shown
was a type (a Bushman, a Fijian) not an individual. Ethnic stereotypes did
not originate in world's fairs, but the fairs emphasized them. Their images
were spread far and wide by the thousands of flyers, pamphlets and
especially picture postcards that were sent by fairgoers from the turn of
the century onwards. Those in charge of exhibits, both on the midway and
in government pavilions, drew ona well-established and prevalent folklore
of ethnic stereotyping.
Stereotyping was not confined to the inhabitants of what we now call
the third world. Europeans were exhibited in idealized village settings. Irish
and Scottish 'villages" appeared in British fairs (where it could be argued
that they were colonies), and life in various French provinces was shown
at the Paris fair of 1937. The practice was particularly prevalent in
American fairs which featured Bavarian, Tyrolian, Swiss, Dutch, Swedish,
Spanish, English, Irish and Belgian "villages." The attraction of European
"villages" at American fairs stemmed, at least in part, from the European
origins of most Americans who might see in idealized German or English
villages what they conceived to be the backgrounds from which they sprang.
Nostalgic "historic" villages were also on display such as "Old London"
(London 1886), "Le Vieux Paris (paris 1900) and the "Old Plantation" (St.
!-ouis 1904). From the exhibitors' points of view, apart from the immediate
cash return, such displays tended to promote tourism as well as the sales
of their goods. 8

exhibited ethnic group. From the time of the "Hottentot Venus," first exhibited in London in 1810 to the dozens of displays of African Pygmies
throughout the nineteenth century, Africans were portrayed as sub-human
freaks, missing links between man and animal and the epitome of primitiveness. Both genetic physiological differences, such as the small stature
of pygmies and Bushmen, and induced physiological features, such as the
lip plates worn by so called Ubangi women, were exploited on the amusement zone. A sideshow at the New York world's fair in 1939 advertised:
... pygmies from Batwa, Central Africa (the smallest human beings known);
genuine Duckbill Ubangis from Shari country, French Equatorial Africa,
headhunters from Congo and Masambo .... "9 As more Africans were shown
in colonial exhibits at world's fairs, and as colonial powers distinguished
peoples from their various colonies from each other and from the
inhabitants of colonies of other powers, the undifferentiated, freakish
stereotype Was modified.
When colonial boundaries were drawn in Africa, they often ran through
traditional cultural areas, so that a particular tribe might be partitioned
among various colonial masters. Since the British, French, Belgian, Spanish
and Portuguese had different colonial practices, distinctions based on the
colonizing power rather than on indigenous differences in custom grew up,
including colonial mandates that determined which European language
Africans had to learn. When independence came, the boundaries of new
nations were not based on traditional tribal or cultural areas but on colonial
boundaries. Continuing wars and skirmishes show just how fragile is this
arrangement. World's fair exhibits sometimes reflected traditional cultural
differences among the peoples shown, and sometimes differences based on
the culture of the occupying power.
The Dahomeans of French West Africa were one of the most popular
exhibits at world's fairs. [SEE PHOTO 2.3] Horror stories about the
savagery of the Kingdom of Dahomey had circulated in Europe in the nineteenth century. Two thousand virgins were reputedly sacrificed on the death
of a king and there was a lake of blood big enough in which to paddle a
canoe. Dahomean women were described as Amazon warriors. Sir Richard
Burton visited the kingdom in 1863 and saw 2,500 female soldiers who were

Africans were subject to the most prevalent negative stereotyping of any

8 Greenhalgh, Ephemeral Vistas, 106ff. discusses this aspect of world's fairs.

9 On the Hottentot Venus, see B. Lindfors, "Courting the Hottentot Venus; Africa: Revista
trimestrale di studi e documentiazionne deU'Isttituto Italo-Africano Anno XL, 1985. On African
Bushman and Pygmies see Bogdan, Freak Show, 187ff. For displays of Africans in the amusement zone in New York 1939 and Chicago 1933 see the Official Guide Book of the New York
World's Fair (New York: Exposition Publications, 1939), 65, and Bogdan, Freak Show, 195-97.




Dahomeans at the 1894 Midwinter Fair in San Francisco linking the
stereotypes of dark pigmentation, nakedness and savagery. (From Sunset
City, n.d.)


official wives of the king. 10

The Anglo-French agreement of 1889, placed Dahomey within the
French sphere of influence, but the kingdom was not finally subdued until
1894. Although concessionaires had shown Dahomeans at previous fairs,
the first government-sponsored exhibit was at the Paris fair of 1900. It
consisted of a complex comprising a two-story Dahomean building designed
by a French architect in "indigenous" style; it had mud walls and a thatched
roof, a scaled-down replica of "the tower of sacrifices" from which, in the
original version, victims were thrown to their deaths, and a "village" of
thatched huts in which living Dahomeans pursued their domestic tasks under
the eyes of world's fair visitors. There was a small lake as well on which
Dahomeans could paddle their dugout canoes. The whole exhibit was meant
to show how the French had put an end to Dahomean bloody massacres and'
led the people toward peaceful production and civilization.
It was the bloody massacres that drew the crowds and led to Dahomean
exhibits in fair after fair. Their propensity for human sacrifice was
lampooned in a cartoon in the French comic paper, Charivari, which depicts
a French woman seeking to buy a purse from a Dahomean: "How much",
she asks. "Two louis", he replies, "but consider that it was made of my
sister's skinl"[SEE PHOTO 2.4] Another shows an altar surrounded by
native artifacts captioned "La table des sacrifices: grand restaurant anthropophagique," thus furthering the image of cannibalism. 11
When Dahomeans were shown on the Midway at the World's Colum bian
Exposition in Chicago in 1893, the stereotype of the savage African was
conflated with African-American stereotypes. Puck, the American comic
magazine depicts a Dahomean intent on stealing chickens (a stereotype of
American Blacks) from the neighboring Midway Javanese Village. The
villagers outsmart him and put him in a cage with an orangutan, depicted
in the last panel wearing the Dahomean's clothes while the latter languishes
in the animal's cage. Children's literature perpetuated the negative stereotype. Uncle Jeremiah and Family at the Great Fair described the Dahomeans
as "black as night and stupid as pigs," and Hubert Howe Bancroft, in his
massive two-volume work on the Chicago fair, describes the Dahomeans
all lean and lank and all supremely hideous. They wear nose and earrings of metal, and as little clothing as decency permits." 12

10 See Fawn M. Brodie, The Devil Drives: A Life of Sir Richard Burton (New York: W. W.
Norton, 1967), 211ff.
11 Chiarivari. l'Exposition Comigue. 7 Juin, 1900: 4-5.
12 Puck 1893, No.6: 72; "Quondam", The Adventures or Uncle Jeremiah and Family at
the Great Fair (Chicago: Laird & Lee, 1893),209; Hubert Howe Bancroft, The Book or the Fair
(Chicago: The Bancroft Company, 1893), ii, 878.




Cartoon of a Dahomean at the 1900 Paris Exposition. "How much for the
purse?" the Frenchwoman asks. "Two louis, but consider that it was made
from my sister's skin!" (From L'Exposition Comique, 13 Sept. 1900)



The Senegalese
In contrast to the Dahomeans the Senegalese were not presented as bloodthirsty savages, but as people whose domestic manners, arts and crafts were
worthy of interest. Senegal had been under French influence since the
seventeenth century, and was shown in virtually every French fair and, as
a concession, in fairs in the United States, England, Scotland and Belgium.
The Senegalese village at the Paris fair of 1889 was surrounded by a fortified wall and contained a mosque, a market, a chief's house and a market
garden. The inhabitants included a weaver, a maker of silver filigree, and
men and women carrying out ordinary domestic tasks. At the 1908 Scottish
National Exhibition in Edinburgh, postcards of the exhibit showed warriors,
a blacksmith, a carpenter and his family, a chief, dancers, jewelers, musicians, a tailor with a sewing machine, a weaver at her loom and wrestlers.
There were also comic postcards showing a kilted Scotsman doing the highland fling with a Senegalese "medicine man" and an old maid being pursued
by an African carrying an ethnographically incongruous Zulu shield.
In some fairs Africans were lumped together in a single exhibit even
though they were often distinguished by tribal name. The 1911 Scottish
International Exhibition in Glasgow had a concession called "West African
Colonies" with 100 Africans from Dahomey, the French Congo, French
Equatorial Africa and the Sudan. There was a similar exhibit at Buffalo in
1901. At other fairs separate exhibits distinguished one African people from
another. At the Paris fairs of 1889 and 1900, for example, there were
separate exhibits of Senegalese and Dahomeans. Visitors could observe the

~~"b~ III' w,,,f

Xosas and Zulus were exhibited in shows in London at the time of the Great
Exhibition of 1851 where they were described as "Kaffirs", a name deriving
from the Arabic word for infidel and applied to South African Bantus of
several tribes. Zulus in particular gained western attention as fierce African
warriors as a result of the Zulu-British and Anglo-Boer wars of the 1870s
and 1880s. In carnival and circus jargon in the United States the word
"Zulu" became synonymous with African.
A spectacle on the Boer war and "Savage South Africa," presented at
the Greater Britain Exhibition in London in 1899, was brought to the St.
Louis world's fair in 1904 where it met with considerable success. In
addition to simulated battles between Britons and Boers there were sixty
Africans from various Bantu tribes "exhibited here in Kraal and native
huts .... All natives will appear in their native costumes, exactly as worn by
them in Darkest Africa" (Anglo-Boer War Official Program). A different
image of Bantus was shown in the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London



in 1886 and in later exhibitions, where they were shown as useful workers
washing diamonds in the South African mines. 13

The African Stereotype

Many other Africans were exhibited-Somalis, Congolese, Gabonese,

Asantes, Malagassys, etc., but the nature of the African stereotype is clear:
primitive, savage, uncivilized, animal-like. Yet the fact that so many
different kinds of Africans were shown tended to unravel the simplistic
undifferentiated notion of "The African." This was furthered by distinctive
cultural performances and crafts that became the hall marks of the exhibitions put on by the new African nations after World War II.

South Sea Islanders

Fijians excited the interest of Europeans and Americans because of their

warlike reputation. Formidable arrays of Fijian clubs and spears decorated
many museums and colonial exhibits at world's fairs. The Fijian trait which
most attracted showmen was cannibalism. P.T. Barnum exhibited four
reputed Fij ian cannibals in 1872, em bellishing their appearance with stories
such as their breaking open the coffin of one of their number who had died
and consuming the corpse. So-called cannibal forks (iculunibakola) were
in such demand that they spawned a small industry for their manufacture. 14
A second stereotype of South Sea Islanders depicted them as beautiful
and carefree, living in a Rousseauesque paradise. This stereotype was
confined to Polynesians, whose appearance more closely resembles white
Euro-American standards of beauty than does that of Melanesians or Micronesians. A visitor to the 1893 Chicago world's fair described them as:
the handsomest company of savages ever seen, or likely to be seen, in the civilized world.
The young men are modelsofmanlybeauty; their bodies are superbly built and developed,
but with a flexibility and grace of movement and a flowing smoothness of contour that
our own athletes strive forin vain .... As to the girls, one of them is as beautiful at all points
as any young woman I should care to see. Her complexion is a light brown, not much

13 Frank E. Gillis, The South African Boer War Exhibition: The Greatest and Most
Realistic Military Spectacle known in the History of the World (St. Louis, 1904), 17. On
diamond washing see Frank Cundall, ed., Reminiscenses of the Colonial and Indian Exhibition
(London: William Clowes & Sons, 1886), 86-89.
14 Fergus Clunie, Fijian Weapons and Warfare (Suva: Fiji Museum, 1977); Bogdan, Freak
Show, 181ff.



darker nor different in tone as one of our maidens might get from a summer's yachting
trip along our coast. 1S

Thus not even her pigmentation is held against her. The South Sea Islands
Village shown at this fair consisted of four Samoan houses contai.ning people
from Samoa, Fiji, Rotuma, and Wallis Islands. In post-independence fairs
the culture of each new Pacific nation was distinguished. Polynesian lures
were held out to tourists, particularly in the United States where elaborate
Hawaiian concessions formed part of nearly every fair. The French did the
same with Tahiti, though less extensively.
Arctic Peoples

A life-sized model of a Laplander in his reindeer sleigh was shown in 1876

at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia; there was a Lapp village in
Chicago in 1893, and a Lapland village concession called the "North Pole"
at the Glasgow exhibition of 1911, but Lapps seem to have been replaced
by Eskimos in later fairs. Eskimos represented another kind of primitive.
Whereas savagery seems to have been the overriding characteristic of the
African stereotype, resourcefulness was attributed to the Eskimo with his
harpoon, sled and igloo, for part of the stereotype was that all Eskimos lived
in snow houses. Eskimos had been exhibited in England as early as 1501.
In 1773 Boswell claimed to ha ve comm unicated by signs with some Eskimos
on show in London though Dr. Johnson did not believe him. Mannequins
of an Eskimo man and his wife were shown at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and living Eskimos were a feature on the Midway
Plaisance in Chicago in 1892. There they lived not in igloos but in mosscovered log cabins and demonstrated fishing, boating and seal-hunting
techniques on the adjoining lagoon. Reputed great age added to their
curiosity value. Bancroftreports that the "king" (Eskimos do not have kings)
was 112 years old with a son of 90, a grandson of 73 and a great granddaughter of 59!
Yet some differentiation of various arctic groups began to appear as
early as the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901, in which three
Eskimos tribes were represented in an ice grotto where they presented
dances, games and dog races. They demonstrated how to cure skins and
carve ivory. Perhaps the most extensi ve Eskimo display took place in Seattle
in 1909 for the Alaska- Yukon-Pacific Exposition where inhabitants of
Alaska, Labrador and Siberia were on show. The many postcards of Eskimos
issued for this fair differentiated Alaskan, Labradorian and Siberian
peoples, and some depicted named individuals, thus eroding the undif-

IS Julian Hawthorne, Humors of the Fair (Chicago: E.A. Weeks, 1893), 168-69.




ferentiated stereotype of the Eskimo. 16

In the Northwest Territories pavilion at the Vancouver fair of 1986,
arctic peoples were accorded much more dignity and individuality than in
pre-World War II expositions. There were extensive displays ofInuit soapstone carvings in surroundings which explained the way Inuit live today
rather than in some idealized version of the past. Native Canadians performed songs and dances in front of the building in which they explained
what they were doing and invited members of the audience to join them
thus breaking down barriers and engendering an appreciation of their way
of life.

Pueblo Indian dwelling at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition. Note the inappropriate feather bonnet, not worn by these tribes, but a stereotype of the
Indian. (From D.R. Francis, The Universal Exposition of 1904 St. Louis.
St. Louis, 1913)



Native Americans


From the European discovery of the new world, American Indians exercised
a fascination on Europeans and successively elicited antagonism, paternalism
and guilt in Euro-Americans. These attitudes were manifested in the displays of Native Americans at world's fairs. Indians have a long history of
exhibition in Britain where, as J.C.H. King has pointed out, two North
American Indian stereotypes succeeded each other. The first was the
Woodland Indian of Eastern America with a roach headdress, shaven head
and painted body; the second was the feather- bonneted Indian of the Plains.
Impetus was given to this latter stereotype by the wild west show. Buffalo
Bill and his troop took London by storm at the American Exhibition of
1887, and he repeated his triumphs on the Continent. Although wild west
shows were featured at virtually every American world's fair from 1892
onwards, there were other exhibits that differentiated Native Americans
by tribe by showing them in different settings such as wigwams (Chicago
1892) and reconstructions of terraced pue blo villages (San Francisco 1915),
as well as in distinctive performances. Fourteen different tribes were
distinguished at the St Louis fair of 1904. [SEE PHOTO 2.5] Despite the
distinctions made among Indian tribes, Native Americans were presented
as uniformly primitive whose best hope lay in American government efforts _
to "ci vilize" them and assimilate to the dominant Euro-American culture. 17



16 Altick, Shows, 45; Boswell's Life of Johnson (London: Oxford University Press, 1953),
537; J .S.Ingram, The Centennial Exposition Described and Illustrated (Philadelphia: Hubbard
Brothers, 1876), 151; Official Catalogue and Guide Book to the Pan-American Exposition
(Buffalo: CharlesAhrhart, 1901),42. For a discussionoftheEskimostereotypeseeJ.C.H. King,
Living Artic: Report and Catalogue (London: British Museum, 1989), 21.


.........- - '


' .l


I II,.




Frontier 1820-1920, cd. William H. Truettner (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press,
1991). For Buffalo Bill and the American Exhibition, see Burton Benedict, "The American
Exhibition of 1887: How Buffalo Bitt Captured London," World's Fair 5, no.2 (1985) and Charle&
Lowe, Four National Exhibitions in London and their Organizer (London: T. Fisher Unwin,
1892). Discussions of the displays of Native Americans at world's fairs emphasizing their
explOitative and derogatory aspects can be found in Robert Rydell, "The Culture of Imperial
Abundance: World's Fairs in the Making of American Culture" in Consuming Visions:
Accumulation and the Display of Goods in America 1880-1920, ed. S.J. Bronner (New York:
W.W. Norton, 1985) and Greenhalgh, Ephemeral Vistas, 82-112.

17 For Indian stereotypes in Britain, see J.C.H. King, "A Century of Indian Shows:
Canadian and United States Exhibitions in London 1825-1925," Native American Studies 5
(1991): 35-42. For the role art played in creating Indian stereotypes in America see Julie
Schimmel, "Inventing 'the Indian'" in The West as America: Reinterpreting Images of the






In marked contrast were the displays of Indians and sub-arctic peoples

at the Vancouver fair of 1986. Named Native American artists created displays which combined traditional myths with the techniques of the electronic age. In one, for example, mechanical mobile carvings demonstrated
the transformation of one being into another as related in Northwest Coast
myth and legend and performed in rituals. A fifty-six-foot carved Haida
canoe built in 1907 was the central feature of the Canadian pavilion and
a giant reproduction of a Northwest Coast thunderbird graced the open
space before the building. Indian symbols had become national symbols.

Igorots eating dog under the eyes of visitors at the 1904 St. Louis
Exposition. (From J.W. Hanson, The Official History of the Fair: St. Louis
1904. Chicago, 1904)

Southeast Asians
Four groups of Southeast Asians were exhibited at world's fairs by the
nations which had conquered and colonized them: the inhabitants of the
Philippine islands were shown principally at American fairs; Javanese and
Balinese were featured in exhibits from the Netherlands; the people of the
various states of Indo- China were to be found chiefly in French fairs; and
the inhabitants of Burma and what is now Malaysia appeared at British fairs.
At post-independence fairs the successor states of these colonies have been
trying to present images of national unity of their various peoples rather
than to differentiate them.
The American conquest of the Philippines in 1898 was soon reflected
in world's fair exhibits. Filipinos appeared at the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha late in 1898 and in Buffalo in 1901. But it was in the st.
Louis fair of 1904 that the more enduring Philippine stereotypes were
created. The Philippine exhibit, which extended over forty-seven acres,
was advertised as including 1,200 people from forty tribes, six villages,
70,000 exhibits, 130 buildings and 725 native soldiers. The people on show
were presented in a social Darwinian context with "the least civilized in the
Negritos and Igorots, the semi-civilized in the Bogobos and Moros and the
civilized and cultured in the Vasayans as well as in the constabulary and
scout organizations." It was the scantily clad, dog-eating Igorots who
attracted the most attention. [SEE PHOTO 2.6] They soon became a sideshow appearing on the midway in Portland in 1905, in Seattle in 1909, in'
New York in 1939, again in Seattle in 1962, and once more in New York
in 1964. The Igorots have all but disappeared from post-independence
exhibits from the Philippines where the emphasis has been on a unified
national and modernizing culture.
In contrast to the rather savage image of the Igorots, the Javanese were
seen as small, primitive and somewhat incomprehensible innocents. The
Javanese village at the 1893 Chicago exposition consisted of some forty-six
buildings made mostly of bamboo and surrounded by a bamboo fence. This
led one observer to see the Javanese as living in baskets. The dancers
reminded him of "a new and beautiful insect in human form." Javanese







dance and drama became an exposition ritual which represented independent Indonesia in post-World War II fairs. With their many cultural
groups the Indonesians have placed even greater emphasis on a national
culture than the Fili pinos. 18
French Indo-China comprised the protectorates of Annam, Tonkin and
Cambodia, the colony of Cochin China and part of Laos. In French fairs,
although there were pavilions showing the products of Indo-China as a
whole each protectorate or colony was also represented in a separate exhibit
in indigenous style, ranging from a Cochin - China theater to Annamese and
Tonkinese villages to the reproduction of the Cambodian temple of Ankor
Wat. Dancing and drama were prominent features in the presentation of
Cam bodians and other inhabitants ofIndo-China. These same sorts of performances became national representations of independent Cambodia, Laos
and Vietnam (made up of Cochin-China, Annam and Tonkin).
A Burmese temple was constructed by native craftsmen forthe British
Empire Exhibition of 1924. This setting and the dances which went with
it represented independent Burma in Osaka in 1970. Malays were presented
as craftsmen rather than artists. The independent nation of Malaysia absorbed the colonies of Sarawak and Sabbah on the island of Borneo, but was
separated from Singapore with its largely Chinese population. Each of these
two nations now stresses its own national culture.

vidualism is to be preferred over anonymous communal effort. 19

In post-independence fairs both India and Pakistan have made strenuous
efforts to differentiate themselves from one another. This has been more
difficult for Pakistan which tries to show its history and culture without
mentioning India.
The representation of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) was largely in the hands of
the tea industry. Not surprisingly it took the forma a Ceylon tea room
where the beverage was served to thirsty fairgoers. The post-independence
exhibits of Sri Lanka have placed more emphasis on national art and culture.

South Asians
India featured in every British exhibition and in British exhibitions abroad.
Several images were projected. The first was the opulence of India, the
jewelled scimitars, the ivory throne, the'tissues woven with gold thread.
The second was the exotic religions, the pantheon of Hindu gods, the
image-encrusted temples, the Taj Mahal. The third was the backward state
of the masses and the strides they were making under British rule. Huge
collections of Indian artifacts were amassed in London for the exhibitions
of 1851 and 1862 and were transported to Paris for the exposition of 1878.
The collection of these objects in themselves demonstrated British dominance over India, as Breckenridge has noted. Lest there should be any doubt
about whose art was superior, the author of the Handbook to the British
Indian Section of the 1878 Paris exposition states: "... it is impossible to rank
the decorative art of India, which is a crystallized tradition, although perfect
in form, with the ever-living progressive arts of Europe, wherein the inventive and creative genius of the true poet, acting on his own spontaneous
inspirations, asserts itself and which constitute the Fine Arts .... " Indi-

18 David R. Francis, The Universal Exposition of 1904 (St. Louis: Louisiana Purchase
Exposition Company, 1913),565; Hawthorne, Humors of the Fair, 178.

The Middle East

Palestine figured as a quasi-colony, a protectorate, in British fairs. Syria
and Lebanon had similar statuses in French expositions. Their pavilions
displayed their crafts and products in the colonial sections of these fairs.
But it was as a sideshow that the middle eastern image was most forcefully
projected. "The Streets of Cairo" was a perennial at world's fairs. First
appearing at the Paris fair of 1878, it grew and proliferated adding camels,
dancing girls, donkey rides, theaters and bazaars for the Paris fair of 1889
and the Chicago fair of 1893 where the undulating "Little Egypt" was a sensation. Versions of the Streets of Cairo appeared in Omaha in 1898, London
1899, Paris 1900, Buffalo 1901, St. Louis 1904, San Francisco 1915, and
Chicago 1933. The denizens of the Streets were not confined to Egypt;
Algerians, Tunisians, Moroccans, Palestinians, Syrians and other middle
Easterners were included. Arabian Nights images of the exotic, luxurious
and sensual were presented along with the bazaars of wily, haggling traders.
This feature has been almost entirely absent from recent fairs. Perhaps it
does not go with oil wealth and the assertion of political autonomy. At
Vancouver in 1986 Saudi Arabia not only showed models of oil refineries
and economic development projects, but extolled the values of Islam. Israel
and Egypt have both been at pains to show their national cultures. The
polyglot bazaar has given way to solemn national pavilions.

The Chinese and Japanese

China and Japan were not colonies and had national pavilions of their own
at many fairs. In addition oriental concessions appeared at nearly every fair.

19 Carol A. Breckenridge, "The Aesthetics and Politics of Colonial Collecting: India at

World's Fairs," Comparative Studies in Society and History 31 (1989): 195-216; George C.M.
Birdwood, Paris Universal Exbibition of 1878: Handbooktotbe Britisblndian Section (London:
Offices of the Royal Commission, 1878), 56.




In the popular culture of the west, the "mysterious orient" image clung to
both Far Eastern nations and was exploited by both western and oriental
entrepreneurs in the amusement zone with Chinese and Japanese villages,
souvenir stands, restaurants and tea gardens. These features have persisted
in post-World War II fairs, though both nations now stress their technological achievements as well as their ancient cultures.
Japan presented its own colonies, Formosa, Korea and the internally
colonized Ainu, in the st. Louis fair of 1904 and the Japan-British Exhibition of 1910 in London. The Ainu display followed the established world's
fair tradition with a village of people in native costume, a blacksmith, and
such ,entertainments as fencing, stilt-walking and a performance of the
"Feast of the Bear," a traditional Ainu ceremony that involved the ritual
killing of a bear.

National stereotypes of fair visitors at the 1900 Paris Exposition. (From
L'Exposition Comique, 3 May 1900)


The Ethnlcity of Fair Goers

The ethnic types on exhibition were only part of the ethnic show at world's
fairs. Another part was played by the visitors themselves. Because fairs drew
visitors from all over the world, there was ample opportunity for the
nationals of the sponsoring nation to observe foreigners and poke fun at
the'm. A Punch cartoon at the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851 depicts
Rotten Row where the elite of Britain promenade. Among the fashionable
English carriages are Lapps in a sled being pulled by a reindeer, an African
in a top hat and monocle riding an ostrich, an Indian on an elephant and
an Arab on a camel. Seventy-three years later, at the time of the British
Empire Exhibition, another Punch cartoon shows an English singer on stage
surrounded by a Turk, an Oriental, an Indian, an African and three assorted
Europeans of non-English nationality. It bears the caption: "In view of the
exceptionally cosmopolitan nature of London audiences during the Wemble~
season, a really enterprising theater would have its corps of interpreters.,,2
During the Paris exposition of 1900, Charivari published a weekly exposition supplement which caricatured both people of differing ethnicity on
show and foreign visitors. A set of eight cartoons shows a German drinking
beer, an Italian eating macaroni, a Belgian flirting, Russians fraternizing,
an American motorist running over a pedestrian, an English pickpocket,
a Chinese having his pigtail pulled by a little boy, and a Parisian leaving
Paris. Blacks are lampooned by showing them dressed in top hats, and
putting on European airs. [SEE PHOTO 2.7]
The cartoons published in the American magazine, Puck, during the
1893 Chicago fair did not just mock foreigners but also American


Punch's Almanack for 1851 (London: Punch, 1851); Punch, June 25, 1924 (London,
1924): 701.




minorities, especially Jews, Blacks and the Irish.21 Blacks are seen as
stupid. A two-page color cartoon shows "Darkies' Day at the Fair," a
lampoon on "Jubilee" or "Colored Peoples" day that was celebrated at the
fair. The cartoon depicts a long procession of blacks, both African and
American, thus amalgamating the two stereotypes. An accompanying set
of v.erses relates how they have been diverted from the the grand parade
by a discontented African-American who distracts them with watermelons
which they gobble up without paying him. (SEE PHOTO 2.81 Blacks were
not just ridiculed in cartoons. Antipathy toward them could take a more
literal form. They featured as targets in sideshows called "Soakum" at the
1915 San Francisco fair and "Ie negre a reau" at the 1925 Paris fair. For
a fee customers could throw balls at atarget. If they hit it, a black man was
dumped into the water. An article on the amusements at the 1925 fair commented "there is a society for the protection of animals, but there still isn't
one for ... blacks.,,22

Conflating Africans and African-Americans at the 1893 Chicago Exposition
Both are readily distracted from the fair by a wily African-Americat
offering watermelons. (From World's Fair Puck. Chicago, 1893)


The Amalgamation of Ethnic Shows and the Main Fair

The French did not make the sharp distinction between the amusement zone
and the main fair that characterized British and American expositions.
Perhaps the Protestant ethic does not run so strongly in France. In the Paris
expositions of 1867, 1889, 1900, 1931 and 1937, ethnic exhibits and performances were not placed among Ferris wheels and carousels but formed
an integral part of the main fair. Moreover visitors were free to mingle with
the inhabitants of the exposition villages, which militated against their being
seen as lluman curiosities on a par with ph ysiological monsters. In the 1889
Paris fair there were processions of all the indigenous people through the
exposition grounds, which were virtual parades of colonized peoples. The
nightly procession was so popular that it was imported to Chicago in 1893,
where it was more of a fun fair attraction and lacked the overt colonialization theme.
In Britain the amalgamation of colonized peoples into the main fair
began at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886 in London, where some
ninety-seven people were on show from twelve districts ofIndia, and from
Burma, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), British Guiana (Guyana), Cyprus, the Cape
(South Africa), the Straits Settlements (Malaysia) and Hong Kong. They
. were displayed principally as craftsmen in fabricated indigenous settings
with what seems to have been a minimum of sideshow trappings. The same
could not be said for the Franco-British Exhibition of 1908. Here the ethnic

21 World's Fair Puck (Chicago, 1893).

22 1'l11ustration, 8 Aout 1925, 147.







villages from both French and British colonies were side-show attractions.
The Singalese concession had jugglers, dancers, musicians and "beautiful
nautch-girls." The Indian arena had acrobats, tightrope walkers, wrestlers,
snake charmers and elephants that slid down a forty- foot incline into a lake.
The French Senegalese village featured over 100 natives in a stockade
engaged in "weird chants and rhythmic dancing." The whole was put on by
Imre Kiralfy, a Hungarian entrepreneur who mounted a series of similar
shows in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Ethnic shows were
often to be found in London in the exhibition halls at Earls Court and at
the nearby Olympia. It was not until the British Empire Exhibition of 192425 that colonial people were again integrated into the main fair. 23
In the United States the amalgamation began with the Chicago fair of
1893. Here, despite the efforts of anthropologists who were supposed to be
in charge of the ethnographic exhibits, most ethnic "villages" ended up on
the midway, where they remained in subsequent fairs until after World War

tions of national cultures. Former c-olonies are now independent countries.

The kinds of displays they mount at world's fairs are under their control
not that of a metropolitan power. Their inhabitants, instead of being presented as savage and backward or even as benighted craftsmen, are now
seen as carriers of a national cultural heritage with art works and performances. 1m perial ethnocentrism has been replaced by national ethnocentrism.
This too has become ritualized with particular performances and displays
becoming assertions of nationalism, of a national culture which differentiates a particular nation from all others. Many of these representations show
continuity with the colonial displays of the past and like them often fail
to convey the cultural diversity to be found in many new nations. Some
countries have taken care to show the cultural variety within their borders
by noting that a particular dance or drama or craft typifies a particular
group; others simplify either by presenting the performance of a particular
ethnic group as representative of the national culture as a whole or by the
amalgamation of several ethnic traditions into a single performance.
At the same time that the nationalisms of newly independent countries
were being paraded at world's fairs, the national displays of the older
colonial powers were being eclipsed by the pavilions of the multinational
corporations. IBM, General Motors and the Mitsui group mounted the most
innovative post-World War II displays, not Britain, France and the United
States. When American corporations were approached to help finance the
United States exhibit at the 1992 world's fair in Seville, they declined
because they did not wish to be identified as American companies.25

Decline of the Ethnic Sideshow

Criticism of displays of dependent people increased after World War I as
independence movements in the colonies grew and people became more
aware of the racist element in ethnic displays. Criticism was particularly
vociferous in France where the advisability of having colonies had become
a political issue. "Ne visitez pas l'exposition coloniale" proclaimed Andre
Breton, Paul Eduard and other French surrealists at the time of the huge
1931 colonial exposition. Leon Blum, leader ofthe Socialist Party and afterwards Premier of France, noted that behind the gorgeous colonial buildings
at Vincennes ran blood, misery and the force of French arms. 24
Although there were extensive colonial displays in the Paris fair of 1937,
the display of living colonial dependents in villages or on midways was
definitely on the wane. Audiences too began to change. The spread of information through films, radio and especially television has made visitors to
world's fairs a good deal more sophisticated about other cultures. Increased
media attention has engendered an atmosphere in which the exhibition of
humans as freaks, oddities or curiosities is no longer acceptable.
Since the end of World War II political and cultural changes have
eclipsed ethnic sideshows at world's fairs. They have not entirely disappeared but have been transformed into what are now seen as manifesta-

From Imperialism to Nationalism

The transformation of ethnic displays at world's fairs--from manifestations
of imperialism to manifestations of nationalism-can be observed in three
buildings which are the remnants of exhibitions in London, Paris and
Chicago. In Paris and Chicago these buildings have become metropolitan
museums showing world cultures. In London, however, it is the former
colonies themselves that determine what shall be shown.
The Commonwealth Institute in Kensington developed from the Colonial
and Indian Exhibition in 1886. It began as the Imperial Institute, a vast
pseudo-gothic building intended to edify the populace as to the immense
commercial potentialities of the colonies and India. 26 It was never very

25 John B. Judis, "Seville Postcard: Show and Tell," The New Republic 20 Jan. 1992, 15.
23 Franco-British Exhibition,London 1908: Official Guide (London, 1908),48,57.
24 Le Livre des Expositions Universelles 1851-1989 (Paris: Editions des Arts Decoratifs,

26 For the early history of the Imperial Institute, see William Golant, Image of Empire:
The Early History of the Imperial Institute 1887-1925 (Exeter: University of Exeter, 1984).
For its role in the propaganda of empire, see Mackenzie, Propaganda and Empire,.121-46.




successful in attracting either maintenance funds or an audience, apart from

captive school children. Its dimly lit interior abounded with stuffed animals,
piles of raw material, dusty dioramas and examples of native crafts. The
building was torn down (except for the tower) in the 1950s, and a new more
"democratic" or perhaps just less imperial structure was built in a new
location. Renamed "the Commonwealth Institute," it was not meant to display imperial grandeur but to show off the products and cultures of the new
Commonwealth nations. Today each nation is responsible for its own display, and the displays, indeed their very presence or absence, reflect the
changing political and economic relations within each nation and among
members of the Commonwealth. They are also affected by the internal
politics of each exhibiting nation.
The displays in the Commonwealth Institute show continuity with the
past. The concept of the Commonwealth itself derives from the Empire
which preceded it. British colonial history figures in the exhibits of many
nations, especially those of Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and some of
the nations of the West Indies. It also features in the displays of some of
the African nations, but here the tone is critical of colonization. The
exhibits in the Commonwealth Institute are addressed to the general public
and especially to school children. The exhibitors aim to show themselves
off as nations. They want to display their new industries, their dams and
airports, but these do not attract British audiences who prefer more exotic
fare. The result is an uneasy compromise with many nations trying to show
both traditional culture and models of new industrial plants. Despite the
varied national exhibits the building itself with its introductory section
featuring a portrait of the Queen and a map of commonwealth countries
still radiates an aura of empire.
By contrast the exhibits in the Musee des Arts Africains et Oceaniens
show little continuity with the French colonial empire. Constructed for the
Exposition Coloniale of 1931, the building was originally known as the
Musee Permanent des Colonies. Its entire facade is a bas relief depicting
industrious natives from every part of the French Empire pouring produce
into France.
Today it is simply a museum of ethnographic art. The objects presented
(many of which are on loan from the Musee de I'Homme, itself housed in
a relic of the Paris Exposition of 1937) are decontextualized from their
cultures of origin and recontextualized as art objects. They do not even all
come from former French colonies. The museum is financed by France,
not by former colonies as is the case with the Commonwealth Institute.
There is no reference to French colonial history within the building except
for two rooms at either end of the ground floor gallery. One is the office
of Marechal Lyautey, the "hero" of French Morocco and commissaire
generale of the Exposition Coloniale of 1931. The other is the office of
Paul Reynaud, minister of colonies at that time. They too are objects of art.
They are preserved, one suspects, less because they are remnants of the

French colonial empire, than because they are fine examples of the art deco
style of the 1930s.
The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago was originally incorporated as the Columbian Museum of Chicago. A large endowment from
Marshall Field brought about a change in the museum's name to the Field
Columbian Museum. It also reflectedthe way in which American expositions and museums are financed, largely by private eJ;lterprise rather than
by government grants. The original museum housed historical relics,
memorial statuary, industrial arts 'and much material on the railways in
addition to departments on zoology, botany, ornithology, geology and
anthropology, all containing exhibits that had come mostly from the World's
Columbian Exposition. The building deteriorated to such an extent that it
was decided to construct an entirely new museum. Opened in 1921 as the
Field Museum of Natural History, its name preserved that of its family of
benefactors, but lost its connection with the World's Columbian Exposition.
Today it is a natural history museum with a large professional staff and an
extensive research program. 27 It contains some 14 million specimens. Like
many American museums it places Native American and other non-Western
cultures in the same building with geology, botany and zoology, not in a
building devoted to history or even ethnography. This reflects a nineteenthcentury evolutionary view which progresses from rocks to plants to animals
toearly hominids to non-western humans.


The displays of colonized peoples at world's fairs became rituals within a
ritual in which the settings, props, and acts performed became stereotyped
both on the midway and in government exhibits. But the meanings of these
rituals have undergone changes from the time they were introduced until
the present. War dances, marriage ceremonies, etc., were life cycle rituals
in their cultures of origin, but at world's fairs they were presented theatrically. For those performing them they lost their original meanings and
became make believe. For those observing them, they did not symbolize
war or marriage, so much as they symbolized a particular ethnicity, such
as Native American or Dahomeans. In this way new traditions were invented, drawing on elements in native cultures and adapting them to the

,27 The Field Museum was constructed in a new location in Grant Park near the University
of Chicago. The original building in Jackson Park, site of the World's Columbian Exposition
of 1893, was reconstructed in more permanent materials and is today the Museum of Science
and Industry, perhaps a more fitting memorial to an American world's fair than a natural
history museum. See Field Museum of Natural History, The 1979-80 Bienniel Report (Chicago,
1980). For an account of another museum which derived from the 1893 Chicago fair, the
Commercial Museum of Philadelphia, see Rydell, 'Culture of Imperilll Abundance,' 210ff.



midway and the colonial exhibit. The same sorts of exhibits were repeated
in fair after fair so that the public came to associate certain rituals with
certain ethnic grouP!!. These meanings of cultural identity became so well
established that they carried over into post-independence world's fairs,
changing their meanings once again to become symbols of a new nationalism.


Number of Displays

Colonized People

Colonial Power

Native Americans
Indians from India
Arctic Peoples
Javanese and Balinese
Africans (unspecified)
West African
Ceylonese (Sri Lankans)
Guadaloupe &
Indian colonies
Igorots (philippines)
Kaffirs (Bantu)
Maoris (New Zealand)
Kanakas (New
British Guianians

U.S. and Canada

U.S. and Canada
British or French


British or French