Coming of Age in Chicago: The 1893 World's Fair and the Coalescence of American Anthropology

Coming of Age in Chicago: The 1893 World's Fair and the Coalescence of American Anthropology

Coming of Age in Chicago: The 1893 World's Fair and the Coalescence of American Anthropology

Coming of Age in Chicago: The 1893 World's Fair and the Coalescence of American Anthropology

Synopsis

Coming of Age in Chicago explores a watershed moment in American anthropology, when an unprecedented number of historians and anthropologists of all subfields gathered on the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition fairgrounds, drawn together by the fair's focus on indigenous peoples. Participants included people making a living with their research, sporadic backyard diggers, religiously motivated researchers, and a small group who sought a "scientific" understanding of the lifeways of indigenous peoples. At the fair they set the foundation for anthropological inquiry and redefined the field. At the same time, the American public became aware, through their own experiences at the fair, of a global humanity, with reactions that ranged from revulsion to curiosity, tolerance, and kindness. Curtis M. Hinsley and David R. Wilcox combine primary historical texts, modern essays, and rarely seen images from the period to create a volume essential for understanding the significance of this event. These texts explore the networking of thinkers, planners, dreamers, schemers, and scholars who interacted in a variety of venues to lay the groundwork for museums, academic departments, and expeditions. These new relationships helped shape the profession and the trajectory of the discipline, and they still resonate more than a century later.

Excerpt

The science of anthropology is so young in this country that
the question is often asked: What is anthropology?

—F. W. Putnam to George Davis, March 1893

A new intellectual center has formed. A dozen years ago
those who note psychic signs perceived that an intellectual
sun was rising on the city by the saltless seas. The
scientific culture of Chicago is young but vigorous.

—W. J. McGee, “Review of W. H. Holmes,
Archaeological Studies,” 1896

The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, or Chicago World’s Fair, has long been recognized as a major event in American cultural history. After three years of planning and feverish preparation, the Fair opened on May 1 along the transformed lakeshore of Jackson Park, unfortunately at the onset of a severe four-year nationwide economic depression. With little trace of irony the sponsors of the Fair presented to the world the vision of a future urban utopia, a “White City” of classical, hygienic harmony, and of a peaceful, humanly diverse global order premised on the hegemony of open capital markets. A few weeks after the close of the Fair on October 30, angry unemployed workers from the Pullman corporate settlement set fire to the former fairgrounds along Lake Michigan, destroying most of the buildings and reducing the White City to rubble. But while the physical structures of the Fair proved as ephemeral as those of other fairs and expositions before and since (Harris 1993), the Chicago events profoundly impacted the imaginations of millions of visitors and thousands of sponsors and exhibitors. The Chicago Fair affected subsequent developments in many . . .

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