Traveling Orientalism: U.S. Echoes of a French Tradition



The dizzying grandeur and sheer magnitude of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago only hints at the amount of time and resources spent on its construction. Even so, it is not the physical structure but rather the ideological scaffolding behind the fair design that proves the most intricate, particularly in terms of the way it both reflected and helped shape mainstream U.S. attitudes at the turn of the twentieth century. The Columbian Exposition (another title for the Chicago World’s Fair), a meticulously planned and painstakingly conceived articulation of U.S. progress, aimed to mark the development of the burgeoning “western” power since the arrival of Christopher Columbus on American soil 400 years earlier. However, as the remarks of James Buel indicate, fair organizers positioned that version of progress in relation to a constructed binary of advanced (colonial) powers and primitive (colonized) peoples, the latter to serve as a benchmark against which progress would be measured. The overwhelming message of progress, packaged and presented by fair designers, seemed a benign and straightforward one meant to mark the U.S. path toward technological advancement. As evidenced by the built-in reference to Columbus, the rhetoric of progress also cloaked expansionist and imperialist goals of the United States as an empire-building nation.


Middle East Landscape Painting Arab Womanhood French Colonial Racial Hierarchy 
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© Amira Jarmakani 2008

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