The official showcase of the nations
Representation of the “other”
The new disciplines of ethnography and anthropology emerge at the international exhibitions where human diversity is centre stage.
The new disciplines of anthropology and ethnography were major contributors at the World’s Fairs. While Western organisers were keen to emphasise the modern, technologically superior West, the “non-Western” world they tended to present focused on subjective and physiognomic differences, habits and customs, and the quality of “native crafts”. These characteristics of peoples of other nations were sometimes admired and frequently trivialised in the press, but to disseminate such views was entirely acceptable at the time and betrayed popularly held beliefs and preconceptions. In pursuit of an alleged “authenticity”, distant lands were re-created in microcosm, as a blend of the picturesque and the “strange”, with the intention of “educating” and delighting with pure spectacle. At its most degrading, these World’s Fairs exhibited human beings in enclosures, while didactic and scientific arguments were employed to spread colonial propaganda proclaiming that the expansion of civilisation and the Western economy were inevitable and historically necessary.
More about
The official showcase of the nations

International exhibitions and new urban architecture
Communication and self-representation
Representation of the “other”
Algerian Shoemaker at the Trocadéro [Paris Exhibition, 1878]


National Central Library, Rome, Italy

The catalogue for the exhibition held in Paris in 1878 describes in detail the work of the artisans who were “exhibited” in the “Oriental Bazaar” next to the Trocadéro Park. Seen here is a member of the Kabyle people, traditionally slipper-makers, from the province of Constantine. The report is not free from the usual generalised statements and the inevitable comparison with occidental costume.

See Database entry for this item

In this Exhibition
About the Exhibition
The official showcase of the nations
Temporary structures and presentation of national contexts
The diffusion of models and promotion of trade
West and East, fine art at International Exhibitions