The grand exhibitions of the Victorian and Edwardian eras are the lens through which Peter Hoffenberg examines the economic, cultural, and social forces that helped define Britain and the British Empire. He focuses on major exhibitions in England, Australia, and India between the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the Festival of Empire sixty years later, taking special interest in the interactive nature of the exhibition experience, the long-term consequences for the participants and host societies, and the ways in which such popular gatherings revealed dissent as well as celebration.
Hoffenberg shows how exhibitions shaped culture and society within and across borders in the transnational working of the British Empire. The exhibitions were central to establishing and developing a participatory imperial world, and each polity in that world provided distinctive information, visitors, and exhibits. Among the displays were commercial goods, working machines, and ethnographic scenes. Exhibits were intended to promote external commonwealth and internal nationalism. The imperial overlay did not erase significant differences but explained and used them in economic and cultural terms.
The exhibitions in cities such as London, Sydney, and Calcutta were living and active public inventories of the Empire and its national political communities. The process of building and consuming such inventories persists today in the cultural bureaucracies, museums, and festivals of modern nation-states, the appeal to tradition and social order, and the actions of transnational bodies.
List of Illustrations
1. Exhibitions and the New Imperialism
2. 'The Exhibition Wallahs': Commissioners and the Production of Imperial Knowledge
3. Commissioners and the State: Power and Controversy at the Exhibitions
4. Consumers, Producers, and Markets: The Political Economy of Imperial Federation
5. Terrae Nullae? Australia and India at Overseas Exhibitions
6. 'Machines-in-Motion': Technology, Labor, and the Ironies of Industrialism
7. Imperial and National Taxonomies: Entertaining and Policing Exhibition Visitors
8. The Imperial Pilgrims' Progress: Ceremonies, Tourism, and Epic Theater at the Exhibitions
Epilogue. Recessional: Imperial Culture and Colonial Nationalism
Appendix A. Major Australian, English, and Indian Exhibitions, 1851-1914
Appendix B. Prominent Exhibition Commissioners
Appendix C. English Government Expenditures for Selected Exhibitions, 1851-1914
Peter H. Hoffenberg is Associate Professor of History at the University of Hawaii.