Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Title: Humans on Display: Reflecting on National Identity and the Enduring Practice of Living Human Exhibitions
Authors: Abbattista, Guido
Issue Date: 2014
Publisher: EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste
Source: Guido Abbattista, "Humans on Display: Reflecting on National Identity and the Enduring Practice of Living Human Exhibitions", 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. 241-271
Abstract: The study of living ethnic expositions in Italy in the nineteenth and twentieth century allows some additional considerations on two main questions: the contributions of such cultural phenomena to the creation of a colonial culture in Italy; and their continuity in modified and adapted forms whereas current interpretations acknowledge their lesser recurrence and relevance in periods of time marked by globalization and dramatic media revolutions. The first point is analyzed with reference to the most recent historiography. With regard to this the A. criticizes G. M. Finaldi’s 2009 thesis on the pervasiveness of a mass colonial sensitivity in late nineteenth-century Italy on the basis of his comparative studies on Italian and European living ethnic expositions and spectacles. These cultural phenomena in the last decades of nineteenth-century Italy reveal weakness, superficiality, improvisation and amateurish character especially if compared to analogous events in France and Germany, with respect to which the Italian cases do not show comparable racist features. Only on the eve of the Italian-Turkish War of 1911-1912 Italian colonialism and its social-cultural expressions assumed very aggressive nationalistic, expansionist and increasingly racist tones. This was the consequence, since the beginning of the twentieth century and the resumption of Italian colonial programs in Africa after the Adowa disaster in 1896, of the growth of a properly speaking colonial culture, with the birth of colonial societies and institutes, the development of colonial socioeconomic, geographical, statistical disciplines and of a scientific anthropological interest in the study of submitted African peoples. These developments had consequences also on the particular way the living exhibition of human colonial diversity continued to occur, making those practices an occasion for publicising not an image of radical and irreducible otherness, but rather a civilizing, assimilationist discourse. The second part of this contribution tackles the question whether the living human exhibitions disappeared in contemporary collective socio-cultural practices. It recalls several, recurring examples after WWII of what could be termed the visual perception of anthropological difference in support of discourses radically different from the typical ones of the age of colonialism and imperialism. The essay shows that the settings partly remained the same as previously, as in the 1958 Brussels Universal Exposition, and partly changed radically both in their physical locations and in their intended meanings. Several examples of different nature – from commercial publicity to ethno-ecological advocacy, from mass tourism to experimental performing arts – converge in giving support to the idea that all historical ages create and rest on, or remember and reproduce plural visual, or ‘optic’ regimes of representation of human (and cultural) differences, thus suggesting how the construction of (especially public) visual perceptions and representations directly derives from or just implies the exercise of physical submission and acts as a device for reducing to order and control the disturbing human diversities.
ISBN: 9788883035821
eISBN: 9788883034923
Appears in Collections:Moving Bodies, Displaying Nations. National Cultures, Race and Gender in World Expositions 19th to 21st Century

Files in This Item:
File Description SizeFormat 
abbattista.pdf2.83 MBAdobe PDFView/Open
Show full item record

CORE Recommender

Page view(s)

checked on Oct 15, 2018


checked on Oct 15, 2018

Google ScholarTM


This item is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons