Whose America? White city and the shaping of national identity, 1883-1905

Gair, C. (2000) Whose America? White city and the shaping of national identity, 1883-1905. In: Balshaw, M., Notaro, A., Kennedy, L. and Tallack, D. (eds.) City Sites: Multimedia Essays on New York and Chicago, 1870s-1930s: an Electronic Book. University of Birmingham Press: Birmingham. ISBN 9781902459097

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Publisher's URL: http://artsweb.bham.ac.uk/citysites/


This essay charts some of the strategies through which different discursive fields sought to reiterate racial difference, both along the lines of the old ‘white’/‘black’ divide and by constructing new ethnic markers to create categories of whiteness inaccessible to new immigrants. In particular, I illustrate the ways in which markers of international difference (suggesting America’s pre-eminent position as a global power), such as the racial hierarchy implied by the layout of the Midway Plaisance and the sometimes subtler anti-European sentiments expressed in popular histories, journalism and advertising, contained an implicit subtext about national identity (asking, ‘What is an American?’). Some of these strategies were more ‘successful’ than others, and tensions and instabilities constantly recur. Rather than providing a close reading of White City as some kind of utopian alternative to the sense of crisis that pervaded so many areas of the nation, I illustrate the overlaps between its practices and those operating more widely through, for instance, popular history, fiction, and advertising. Unsurprisingly, the story is largely one of systematic discrimination against marginalised communities. The instances of self-contradiction that occur do, however, suggest a more complex pattern than that offered in the evolutionary discourse underwriting so many narratives, and reveal the presence of versions of history counter to that which dominates our cultural memory.

Item Type:Book Sections
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Gair, Dr Chris
Authors: Gair, C.
College/School:College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Publisher:University of Birmingham Press

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