The Trans-Mississippi and International Expositions of 1898-1899: Art, Anthropology, and Popular Culture at the Fin de Siècle

The Trans-Mississippi and International Expositions of 1898-1899: Art, Anthropology, and Popular Culture at the Fin de Siècle

The Trans-Mississippi and International Expositions of 1898-1899: Art, Anthropology, and Popular Culture at the Fin de Siècle

The Trans-Mississippi and International Expositions of 1898-1899: Art, Anthropology, and Popular Culture at the Fin de Siècle

Synopsis

The Trans-Mississippi Exposition of 1898 celebrated Omaha's key economic role as a center of industry west of the Mississippi River and its arrival as a progressive metropolis after the Panic of 1893. The exposition also promoted the rise of the United States as an imperial power, at the time on the brink of the Spanish-American War, and the nation's place in bringing "civilization" to Indigenous populations both overseas and at the conclusion of the recent Plains Indian Wars. The Omaha World's Fair, however, is one of the least studied American expositions. Wendy Jean Katz brings together leading scholars to better understand the event's place in the larger history of both Victorian-era America and the American West.

The interdisciplinary essays in this volume cover an array of topics, from competing commercial visions of the cities of the Great West; to the role of women in the promotion of City Beautiful ideals of public art and urban planning; and the constructions of Indigenous and national identities through exhibition, display, and popular culture. Leading scholars T. J. Boisseau, Bonnie M. Miller, Sarah J. Moore, Nancy Parezo, Akim Reinhardt, and Robert Rydell, among others, discuss this often-misunderstood world's fair and its place in the Victorian-era ascension of the United States as a world power.

Excerpt

Robert W. Rydell

In 1898 my grandmother, Ivy Pearl Snyder, was a twelve-year-old farm girl from Waverly, Nebraska, when she traveled forty miles with her parents to Omaha’s Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition. Her experiences and memories got distilled into a small keepsake, a souvenir spoon (fig. 1). When she attended the fair, she was about the same age as Ma Joad, the central figure in John Steinbeck’s novel Grapes of Wrath, who, in the course of culling her family’s belongings before embarking on their Depression-era trip to California, refused to jettison a small soapstone carving she had acquired as a keepsake from her girlhood visit to the 1904 St. Louis fair. Like Ma Joad, my grandmother kept her souvenir from the 1898 fair through the thickness and thinness of her life before passing it along to my mother. For reasons Steinbeck would have understood, the Omaha fair mattered as much to my grandmother as the St. Louis fair mattered to the woman who held the Joad family together during the darkest days of the Great Depression.

Today it is difficult to understand and explain the importance of world’s fairs for the tens of millions of Americans who saw them. After all, the last such event held in the United States was in New Orleans in 1984, and it was not successful. in 2001 the U.S. government withdrew from the international convention governing world’s fairs, now called world expos, making it highly unlikely . . .

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