Student exhibition on 1893 Columbian Exposition

Exhibition logo designed by Kate Ackerman

Professor Debby Andrews’s undergraduate material cultures seminar (MCST402) curated a small exhibition titled “The World’s Columbian Exposition: Then and Now,  1893.2012,” using photo-facsimiles of items from Special Collections’s holdings of world fairs materials, including programs, photographs, posters, and souvenirs. The exhibition took place December 5-7, 2012, at the Center for Material Culture Studies Conference Room at 77 E. Main St. The exhibition’s brief showing, its curators note, “mimics the transient nature of world’s fairs.” The exhibition celebrated the Columbian Exhibition’s lasting influence on American architecture, urban planning, technology, industry, and consumerism. 2012 also marks the 100th anniversary of the death of its chief architect, Daniel Burnham. As a tribute to the White City, the opening of the exhibition offered Sally White cake, a recipe from Favorite Dishes, A Columbian Autograph Souvenir Cookery Book (1893).

Beginning with the Great Exhibition of 1851, world fairs have promoted and stimulated industry, progress, commerce, education, and amusement. International in scope, yet an opportunity for national and local pride, each fair attempted to outdo its predecessor in size, grandeur, and novelty. World’s fairs have made lasting contributions to technology and architecture, as well as to the development of a new commodity culture born from the emphasis on industry and progress. The World’s Columbian Exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair commemorated the four-hundredth anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in North America in 1492. Several leading architects were responsible for the design of exhibition buildings, including George B. Post, Sophia Hayden, Charles McKim, and Richard Morris Hunt. The Columbian Exposition was the first World’s Fair to include a separate amusement area, called the Midway Plaisance, which featured the world’s first Ferris wheel, which had been an attempt to outdo the Eiffel Tower, the centerpiece of the Paris World’s Fair of 1889. The Exposition also showcased the city’s progress since its devastation by the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.

To find Special Collections’s cataloged world fair materials, search the catalog by fair name; there are also manuscript collections and scrapbooks available.

MCST402 examines the materiality of objects to uncover information about their uses and roles in a given culture. Prof. Andrews is a professor in the English department and the director of the Center for Material Cultures Studies.

Maureen Cech


  1. Thanks for this informative post placing our exhibit in the larger context of world fairs and of related materials in Special Collections–our university’s own cabinet of wonders!

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