On the cusp of a new century, millions of people from across the globe traveled to Chicago to visit the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead on nearly 700 acres along the shores of Lake Michigan, the fair celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s “discovery” of the “new” world. In doing so, the fair defined and asserted an expanding role for the United States on the global industrializing stage. Known as the “White City” for its building style, championed by chief architect Daniel Burnham, the Columbian Exposition was more than what it appeared on the surface: one more in a long line of beautiful nineteenth-century international fairs focused on showcasing technological and commercial achievements. Instead, the fair’s conception, creation, content, and various controversies encapsulate and reveal many of the key anxieties and aspirations of a rapidly transforming nation poised to become a world power. In this class, we will explore the ambitions, cultural tensions, and the domestic and foreign policy implications of the fair as a case study to understand more fully the important and persistent questions in our history: What does it mean to be an American? And who gets to decide?
I enjoyed most of the first half of the presentation, but then Stephanie found it necessary to change focus during the second half and remind us again, and again, and again what “jerks” the prior generations of that time were in their treatment of Native Americans and other non-whites. Yes, Stephainie, we know, and we already knew that how these peoples were treated was terrible, unforgivable, and at times inhuman. However, we came to watch, listen, and learn about an otherwise glorious World’s Fair. Next time, try to stay focused on the topic at hand, and leave politicization at the door …