The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair: Experiencing the Columbian Exposition with Dr. Jennie Hirsh

The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair: Experiencing the Columbian Exposition with Dr. Jennie Hirsh


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Can't make this time? A video recording will be sent to all participants after the seminar.

The Chicago World's Fair of 1893 was incredibly important for a number of reasons. Open from May through October of 1893, the event commemorated the four-hundred-year anniversary of Columbus' journey to America, transformed Chicago into the "White City" following its devastation by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and attracted more than 20 million visitors before closing. Daniel Burnham, John Root, Frederick Law Olmsted, and Henry Codman were the main ones responsible for the planning of the fair. which was sited south of the downtown area in Jackson Park, while George Browne Goode, from the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., was brought in to oversee the organization of the fair's various exhibition categories.

Emphasizing water in its design, the fair included not only a dramatic beaux-arts style Court of Honor (whose white color resulted in Chicago's nickname as the "White City") that surrounded a large pool but also an island bordered by a lagoon. Comprising topics such as electricity, mining, transportation, agriculture, and more, the fair is also noted for the ways in which it asserted American Exceptionalism. At the same time, the World's Columbian Exposition included a more wild zone focused on entertainment and refreshments with an international fair on the Midway between Jackson and Washington Parks.

We will revisit this extraordinary exposition through plans, photographs, and ephemera, paying special attention to specific national pavilions, government buildings, the Women's Building (and the many important contributions by women's participation in this fair), the emergence of ragtime, and the problematic ways in which the fair championed Western imperialism and racist ideologies.

Led by an expert on modern and contemporary art and architecture, Dr. Jennie Hirsh, this Conversation will consider the contributions as well as complications produced by the fair at the time and through its legacy in terms of not only World's Fairs but also the future of urban planning in the United States. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased appreciation of the lasting impact of this World's Fair.

This seminar has been designed to be enjoyed as a standalone experience or as part of Dr. Hirsh's extended series spotlighting each World's Fair in turn. For more details, click here.

Jennie Hirsh (Ph.D., Bryn Mawr College) is a Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Maryland Institute College of Art. She has held postdoctoral fellowships at Princeton and Columbia Universities, as well as pre-doctoral fellowships from the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation, the U.S. Fulbright Commission, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, and the Wolfsonian FIU. Hirsh has authored essays on artists including Giorgio de Chirico, Giorgio Morandi, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Yinka Shonibare, and Regina Silveira, and is co-editor, with Isabelle Wallace, of Contemporary Art and Classical Myth (Ashgate 2011).

This conversation is suitable for all ages.

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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