Showing and Telling: Object Lessons at International World’s Fairs

Spooner, R. (2018) Showing and Telling: Object Lessons at International World’s Fairs. Association for Art History Annual Conference, London, UK, 5-7 Apr 2018.

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During the nineteenth century learning through first-hand engagement with things was taken up by educators across a range of disciplines. As the call for papers notes, the methodology of the object lesson moved beyond the study of artefacts and specimens and came to encompass a wider variety of sources. It can be argued that a diversification in sites of learning paralleled this expansion of media. No longer restricted to classrooms and lecture theatres, the object lesson permeated other settings. The paper proposed here takes up both of these concerns, exploring this pedagogical strategy in the context of international world’s fairs. The philosophy of the object lesson was at the core of this event structure. The paradigm was based on an epistemology that linked seeing and knowing, meaning it was predicated on a technology of vision that underlined the act of observation. By fusing education and entertainment, study and spectacle, international world’s fairs offered the public an immersive cultural experience that emphasised the primacy of the eye. While material objects were the stated focus of these events – industrial machinery, household appliances, furniture, paintings, minerals, clothing and foodstuffs comprised the majority of displays – what might be termed animate objects similarly attracted considerable attention. Female shop attendants and waitresses, musicians and performers from the Indian subcontinent, so-called ‘native villages’ that housed colonised peoples, and crowds of exhibition-goers were conceived as things that could yield new knowledge and insight through studious observation. At international world’s fairs people were also the subjects of object lessons.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item
Keywords:International World's Fairs, object lessons, empire, imperial gaze, Scotland.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Spooner, Dr Rosie
Authors: Spooner, R.
Subjects:A General Works > AM Museums (General). Collectors and collecting (General)
L Education > LA History of education
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
College/School:College of Arts > School of Humanities > Information Studies
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