World Fairs and International Exhibitions: National Self-Profiling in an International Context, 1851-1940
Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms, University of Amsterdam; Leiden University
Probably the most important global stage for learning how to represent a national identity was the world fair. These grandiose international exhibitions emerged during the decades of post-1848 nationalism – which also saw the rise of mass tourism – and formed part of the panoramatic “spectacle of modernity” that dominatedall mass-oriented representations of landscapes and societies in these decades. At the first Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in 1851 all participating countries had their own section in London’s Crystal Palace to show their contribution to human progress. However, it was difficult to be distinctive with machines, inventions and fine arts, which look quite similar everywhere. Therefore, at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867 each participating country was invited to also erect a pavilion in a characteristic national style to exhibit its own “authentic” culture. These national pavilions became an integral part of subsequent international exhibitions, and world fairs became an international platform for showcasing a country’s distinctive characteristics.