Showing the World: Chicago’s Columbian Exposition in American Writing
This essay examines a representative sample of the substantial body of writing which emerged from Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. This compelling literary legacy is one aspect of that otherwise widely studied event that has so far received only scant critical attention. It is the author’s belief that through a close reading of these texts we can gain precious insights into a defining moment of the American experience, one that signaled the emergence of the United States as a major player on the international stage. The writers under consideration – ranging from canonical (William Dean Howells), to popular (Frances Hodgson Burnett), minor (Julian Hawthorne), and forgotten (Clara Louise Burnham) – had recourse to different literary genres, approaches, and registers to recreate, and comment on, the ways in which the United States presented itself to the world and how it interacted with, and responded to, the foreign delegations participating in the exposition. Although varying greatly from one another in terms of style, scope, and ambition, these works all testify quite eloquently to the significance of the Columbian Exposition as an occasion for national soul-searching and identity construction. They are illuminating interpretations of a crucial phase in American history, one marked by unresolved racial tension (the dark heritage of the Civil War) and massive foreign immigration, when the United States was endeavoring to come to terms with its new role as a political, economic, and cultural power.
EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste
Leonardo Buonomo, "Showing the World: Chicago’s Columbian Exposition in American Writing", in: Guido Abbattista (edited by), “Moving Bodies, Displaying Nations National Cultures, Race and Gender in World Expositions Nineteenth to Twenty-first Century”, Trieste, EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste, 2014, pp. 21-38