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All the World's a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions, 1876-1916

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  82 ratings  ·  10 reviews
Robert W. Rydell contends that America's early world's fairs actually served to legitimate racial exploitation at home and the creation of an empire abroad. He looks in particular to the "ethnological" displays of nonwhites—set up by showmen but endorsed by prominent anthropologists—which lent scientific credibility to popular racial attitudes and helped build public suppo ...more
Paperback, 338 pages
Published October 15th 1987 by University of Chicago Press (first published 1985)
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Jan 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Detailed overview of the imperial ideology driving World's Fairs in the US, with glimpses of additional issues such as labor relations. It proceeds with chapter-by-chapter discussions of each fair, and so the cumulative effect is repetitive but effective. It left me thoroughly depressed: I was not surprised at the celebration of empire, but I did not realize (though in retrospect it makes sense) quite how interwoven this ideology was with eugenics and racism. And of course, details such as the f ...more
Bobby Petricini
Sep 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Not sure if I totally buy into his whole theory. It's there, but Rydell may be cherry picking.
Charlie Newfell
Jul 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Detailed, academic work about the World's Fairs in the USA from 1876 to 1916. This covers the famous Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Columbian in Chicago, the Pan Am in Buffalo and the Louisiana Purchase Centennial in St. Louis amount others. These World's Fairs gave history many popular culture icons, including demonstrating many inventions that were to impact the 20th century. But this account focuses on what the Fairs were trying to proclaim-- the ethnic superiority of the American rac ...more
Andrew Johnson
Oct 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An excellent piece of historical scholarship written by my former advisor.
Grace Song
Jan 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rydell explores the importance of Expositions in the Us from 1876-1914 through the lens of Gramsci’s cultural hegemony. My tool for rating was how much I learned from this book. There were many fun facts that I learned and this book solidified my interest in the importance of culture when thinking about history. Overall, I enjoyed reading this book and want to learn more about World Fairs in the US.
Mindy Burroughs
Jan 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Thoroughly jaw dropping, well written, makes a clear case that upper class purpose and federal power came together to ensure the early worlds fairs could impose “ethnological” and imperialist values on as many Americans as possible.

Highly recommend for American History fans and world’s fair enthusiasts.
Aug 30, 2012 rated it liked it
Rydell argues that the physical design and organization of America’s World’s Fairs – (the role of the midways, in particular) - furthered imperialistic and hierarchal racist ideologies of elite, white Americans. The marginalized exhibitions of foreign and ethnic cultures were legitimized by the Smithsonian Institution’s endorsement and the artistic and political authority of the fair, though the exhibitions were more Barnum-esque spectacles than scientific displays. There was a movement in the l ...more
Apr 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Extensively researched and well-written documentation of how the U.S. put on display the people from around the world that it claimed to have "uplifted and civilized," especially in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War I was especially moved by the history of the Igorot Villages, first exhibited at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. It turned out to be such a popular spectacle that entrepreneurs and charlatans colluded to send Igorot tribespeople (from the northern Philippines) to expositi ...more
Apr 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
this book is a standard in world's fair public memory. when you read it, you'll see why. rydell dives into race relations, how various groups react, or were suppose to react, and still gave a generalized feel of where the creators were going with their exhibitions. i wish gender would have been included more, but i don't know what kind of access to that information is out there. i only read the chicago world's fair part, but i'm still classifying this one as read. it's good enough to pick up aga ...more
Oct 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
A book that exposes the dark underbelly of the expositions of the 19th and early 20th centuries that hid behind a veneer of fantasy and bright lights. One key element of these fairs that may be unknown today is the racism and subordination/exploitation of minority groups, as well as the rationalization of this treatment by a new American Empire (as well as a simple love for illusion and novelty). Extremely interesting.
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