The World’s Fairs archive is a delightful treasure trove of information dedicated to World Fairs and Expositions. World Fairs and Exhibitions were the impetus and stage for experimentation, innovation, ostentation, and progress in science, engineering, industry, and social progress. Iconic places that are now part of the fabric of our landscapes and lives owe their existence to or made their debut at a world fair: the Eiffel Tower, the Space Needle, light bulbs, X-rays, and television—to name just a few things. Therefore, this online archive covers multiple disciplines offering views on the subjects through a variety of formats including official records, personal accounts, oral histories, diary entries, photographs, maps, and ephemera. The collection is sourced from 13 archives in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and France.
While the collection includes over 200 fairs, it focuses on nine fairs as case studies. The collection also includes information from fairs all over the world, but its particular strength is on Northern European and North American expositions during the years from 1880 to 1920, a time known as the "golden age" of expositions.
The archive is easy to navigate and is organized into sections by tabs. The document collection is accessed through the Documents tab which allows users to search the collection by keyword and filter by document type, country, and participating archive. Document types include correspondence, sheet music, and government reports, among several options. The collection also features a number of 360 objects, allowing users to zoom and rotate images of 3D objects such as souvenir cups. Each document or object is thoroughly and carefully described by title, date, place, fair, owning archive (for copyright), and description of visual content if applicable. Each object is represented with a high-quality image that can be examined and saved.
In addition to the large document/object collection, the archive provides several ways to browse and explore the collection through additional tabs. The Introduction tab includes the "Editor’s Choice" a collection of four objects the editors believe to be extremely unique but also indicative of the collection and its research potential as a whole. One of these objects is a satirical board game from the Great Exhibition of 1851 in which players collect countries while moving around a board decorated with stereotypically represented people and cultures.
The Fairs tab focuses exclusively on the nine fairs chosen as case studies and considered to be representative of the most influential exhibitions. It is like an archive within the archive. This tab is especially useful for the informative and engaging descriptions of each fair. The descriptions are peppered throughout with hyperlinks to documents in the collection.
The Explore tab provides links to academic essays, sound recordings, biographies, and interactive site plans. The sound recordings are quite interesting and include radio broadcasts, music performed at the fair site, interviews of attendees, and an address by President Grover Whalen.
The Essays tab includes seven academic essays that demonstrate the research value of the collection in action. The Key Exhibits link under the Explore tab offers a way to browse the collection by subject identified by the editorial board as common and important across all the fairs including aeronautics, Fashion & Beauty, Transportation, Art & Architecture, Lifestyle, and Electricity.
World's Fairs is highly recommended due to its uniqueness, depth, scope, and quality of presentation. It offers a fresh, relevant, and engaging angle for exploring the history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is intended for mature or academic audiences. Academic libraries looking for an attention-grabbing and high-quality resource to offer history, sociology, gender studies, and art and design departments will be thrilled to add World's Fairs.
Kristin Kay Leeman
American Reference Books Annual, August 2016