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A Global History of Expositions

Explore two centuries of innovation, entertainment and international relations through the rich history of world’s fairs.

“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood”

Daniel Burnham,
Master Designer of the 1893 Columbian Exposition

This online resource hosts primary source material from hundreds of fairs, including London’s Great Exhibition of 1851, American fairs of the 19th and 20th centuries and 21st century EXPOs. A vital resource for students, teachers and researchers of a huge range of subjects including imperialism, race relations, gender studies, science and technology, consumer culture, architecture and design.

“World’s fairs have taken place in particular historical contexts that have both shaped these events and been shaped by them. This is what makes world’s fairs so valuable for thinking about the past, present, and future. They are mirrors of society as well as blueprints for the future”.

Professor Robert Rydell,
Montana State University Humanities Institute

Collating material from archives around the world, this resource features ephemera, souvenir artefacts and personal reflections collected by fair-goers as well as official records from the organising committees and examples international reception. Material including pamphlets, guide books, official catalogues, periodicals, minutes and correspondence gives a ‘360’ view of the fairs from the planning stage to the legacy they leave behind. There is also a rich selection of visual material including maps, photographs, postcards and illustrations.

While hundreds of fairs are represented, the resource focuses on 9 case studies:

  • 1851 Great Exhibition, London

  • 1876 Philadelphia Centennial International Exhibition 

  • 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle

  • 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition

  • 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, St. Louis

  • 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco

  • 1933/34 Chicago Century of Progress International Exposition

  • 1939/40 New York World’s Fair

  • 1967 Expo ’67 Montreal

Powerful search functionality, innovative interactive tools and contextualising secondary features facilitate rigorous research and a deeper understanding of this varied and fascinating subject.