World’s Fair 1893: A Changing Nation

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Duration 01:06:25

College of the Holy Cross

Stephanie Yuhl is the W. Arthur Garrity, Sr. Professor in Human Nature, Ethics and Society and Professor of History at the College of the Holy Cross, as well as Associate Faculty at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design in the Critical Conservation Program.  An expert in 20th-century U.S. cultural and social history who specializes in historical memory, social movements, gender and sexuality, Southern history, and the built environment, Professor Yuhl is also a consultant and curator of historical museum exhibits and oral history projects. A popular teacher who was awarded the inaugural Burns Career Teaching Medal for Outstanding Teaching, Yuhl is the author of the award-winning book, A Golden Haze of Memory: The Making of Historic Charleston, and the co-author of LGBTQ+ Worcester for The Record.



On the cusp of a new century, millions of people from across the globe traveled to Chicago to visit the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead on nearly 700 acres along the shores of Lake Michigan, the fair celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s “discovery” of the “new” world. In doing so, the fair defined and asserted an expanding role for the United States on the global industrializing stage. Known as the “White City” for its building style, championed by chief architect Daniel Burnham, the Columbian Exposition was more than what it appeared on the surface: one more in a long line of beautiful nineteenth-century international fairs focused on showcasing technological and commercial achievements. Instead, the fair’s conception, creation, content, and various controversies encapsulate and reveal many of the key anxieties and aspirations of a rapidly transforming nation poised to become a world power. In this class, we will explore the ambitions, cultural tensions, and the domestic and foreign policy implications of the fair as a case study to understand more fully the important and persistent questions in our history: What does it mean to be an American? And who gets to decide?




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Arturo Padilla

Insightful and well passed lecture

Stephanie Yuhl makes diverse connections between this historic place and event in US history and some of the social conflicts and explorations of our current times.

2 years ago
Richard Noel

World's Fair, politicized ...

I enjoyed most of the first half of the presentation, but then Stephanie found it necessary to change focus during the second half and remind us again, and again, and again what “jerks” the prior generations of that time were in their treatment of Native Americans and other non-whites. Yes, Stephainie, we know, and we already knew that how these peoples were treated was terrible, unforgivable, and at times inhuman. However, we came to watch, listen, and learn about an otherwise glorious World’s Fair. Next time, try to stay focused on the topic at hand, and leave politicization at the door …

2 years ago
Fred Weingarten

Excellent presentation

This was an excellent presentation on the Fair. Yuhl very appropriately goes beyond a simple description of the Fair, and focuses on the cultural context and messages. implicit and explicit, of the Exposition. It’s a way of understanding, not just describing, our past.
One very small detail.
In discussing Gast’s painting, “American Progress,” Yuhl said Progress was shown distributing electricity. It might be a telegraph, instead. According to the renowned expert, Dr. Google, the painting dates to 1872. If so, it predated Edison’s development of DC electricity by ten years. Tesla’s invention of AC distribution, which could travel distances more efficiently, dates even later, 1887. Gast would be unlikely to have known about it when he painted “Progress.”
Telegraph makes sense, anyway. It was essential to the westward migration, keeping the expanding western territory connected with the East. Note Progress is running the wire alongside the railroad in the picture.

2 years ago
Fred Weingarten

Added a rating

I forgot to add stars to my previous review. Here they are.

2 years ago
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