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Anthropology Goes to the Fair

The 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition

Nancy J. Parezo

Publication Year: 2007

World’s fairs and industrial expositions constituted a phenomenally successful popular culture movement during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In addition to the newest technological innovations, each exposition showcased commercial and cultural exhibits, entertainment concessions, national and corporate displays of wealth, and indigenous peoples from the colonial empires of the host country.
As scientists claiming specialized knowledge about indigenous peoples, especially American Indians, anthropologists used expositions to promote their quest for professional status and authority. Anthropology Goes to the Fair takes readers through the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition to see how anthropology, as conceptualized by W J McGee, the first president of the American Anthropological Association, showcased itself through programs, static displays, and living exhibits for millions of people  “to show each half of the world how the other half lives.” More than two thousand Native peoples negotiated and portrayed their own agendas on this world stage. The reader will see how anthropology itself was changed in the process.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: Critical Studies in the History of Anthropology


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pp. v


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Conducting a study as complex as this, in which the data are scattered in libraries and archives across the country, has meant that we have met and relied on countless people over the years as we visited the many institutions listed in the index. We were aided by many curators, archivists, librarians, secretaries, registrars, and students, and we deeply appreciate the time and effort they ...

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Series Editors' Introduction

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pp. xi-xiii

The critical history of anthropology, at least as written by practicing anthropologists, habitually employs ethnographic methods. Nancy Parezo and Don Fowler bring to this project their long-established commitments to archaeology, ethnohistory, museum studies, and ethnography as well as the history of anthropology. They, and we as readers, stand as heirs to past traditions whose ...

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Prologue: Setting the Stage for St. Louis

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pp. 1-14

The Louisiana Purchase Exposition (lpe) was held in St. Louis, Missouri, from May to December 1904, to commemorate the United States' 1803 purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France for sixty million francs, or roughly three cents an acre, arguably the best land deal in American history. Popularly called the St. Louis World's Fair, the exposition extended over 1,240 acres, the largest ...

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1. Organizing the Louisiana Purchase Exposition

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pp. 15-34

Discussions among St. Louis business and political leaders about hosting a national exposition began as early as 1889. Governor David R. Francis led a delegation to Washington dc to seek the exposition to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of Columbus's "discovery of the New World" for St. Louis. Rival Chicago won and staged its World Columbian Exposition in ...

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2. WJ McGee and the Science of Man

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pp. 35-51

William John McGee (fig. 2.1), a practitioner of the new science of anthropology, was also a government bureaucrat, geologist, inventor, agriculturalist, conservationist, policy maker, promoter, and science advocate. He had published more than three hundred articles in several fields by 1903. He liked to do things differently than anyone else. He was known as "no period McGee" ...

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3. Planning the Anthropology Department and Model Indian School

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pp. 52-72

According to McGee, the purpose of the Department of Anthropology was educational, "to diffuse and incidentally to increase knowledge of Man and his Works" (McGee 1905d, 1). The department would summarize and visualize what was known about humanity, using his evolutionary model as a template to demonstrate human progress. He would organize the exhibits, decide on ...

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4. Assembling the "Races of Mankind"

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pp. 73-99

McGee was disappointed that the grandiose plan he had been publicizing would not be implemented and felt that the LPEC's obstinacy caused him logistical problems as well as damaged his reputation. He had begun his public relations campaign without LPEC Board approval and without a budget, causing Skiff and Francis to keep a tight reign on his activities. McGee later ...

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5. Presenting Worthy Indians

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pp. 100-134

Almost five hundred individuals from twenty-nine societies were official members of the LPEC's Native encampments, commonly called the Anthropology Villages (for foreign Natives) and Indian Village. In 1913 LPE president David Francis reminisced about the "almost sensational" outdoor reservations he had seen and how they had been construed within the LPE's theme of humanity's ...

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6. The Model Indian School

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pp. 135-163

At the top of the hill, visitors came to the Indian School, "a representation of actual human development from savagery and barbarism toward enlightenment as accelerated by association and training," according to Francis. Its placement on the highest ground in Forest Park was intentional; McGee and McCowan wanted a visual symbol of the federal government's achievements ...

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7. The Philippine Reservation

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pp. 164-193

The Philippine Reservation's display of diverse peoples and its rich program of activities drew enormous crowds, far more than the Indian School. Francis said at the official dedication on June 18 that ninety-nine out of a hundred fairgoers had visited the reservation in the previous six weeks. The impressive visitor rate was not surprising, considering that the United States' role in the ...

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8. The Anthropology Villages

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pp. 194-233

McGee had gathered Native people from north, south, east, and west into an extensive outdoor exhibit. Francis always referred to them as the anthropology "colonies," emphasizing the political status of the inhabitants. LPEC publicists and McGee emphasized the peoples' strangeness, billing them as exotic extremes — the tallest or shortest race, the ones who lived in the most remote ...

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9. The Polyglot Pike

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pp. 234-265

The entertainment zone along the north side of the fair was a mile long, three-hundred- foot-wide avenue, billed as the "Street of All Nations," a place where races and cultures mingled as never before. It was often referred to as the "Ten Million Dollar Pike," ballyhoo to signify that it was bigger and better than Chicago's 1893 Midway Plaisance, but also to remind people that it was a place ...

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10. Being a Living Exhibit

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pp. 266-294

Before the exposition opened, reporter W. C. M'Carty imagined what life would be like for Native participants. Relying heavily on McGee's rhetoric, he boldly asserted that the Native peoples "will live exactly as they would were they at home on their reservation instead of being the center of the greatest exposition ever held" (M'Carty 1903, 6). M'Carty did not stop to think ...

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11. In the Anthropology Building

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pp. 295-323

After viewing the Anthropology Villages and the Indian School some visitors braved yet more mud and walked north past the Physical Education stadium and the Administration Building to Cupples Hall to see static displays "of the curious or more conventional products of [Native] peoples' hands and brains." There were over fifty thousand densely packed objects according to the official ...

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12. Anthropological Performances

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pp. 324-357

The Louisiana Purchase Exposition was a place of constant movement, of spectacle and performance. And this melding of performance and national celebration, entertainment and education, was continuously renewed and reinvigorated. Skiff and his department heads tried to ensure that people would come more than once. This meant new activities to entice repeat visitors, so ...

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13. Celebrating the Fair and Going Home

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pp. 358-376

As the oppressive summer heat passed into the cooler weather of autumn, fewer visitors came to the exposition, since children were back in school. After September 1, the remaining American Indian demonstrators began to go home in small groups. Their houses remained standing but were less enticing without inhabitants. There were vacant artisan booths, but still many ...

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14. The Experiences of an Exposition

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pp. 377-390

Although tired and ill as the fair wound to a close, McGee wanted to try again to assemble the world's peoples but he was not given the opportunity and his overtures to the organizers of the next exposition — the Lewis and Clark Centennial and American Pacific Exposition and Oriental Fair, in Portland — were respectfully declined. He had learned much from St. Louis ...

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Epilogue: Passing into History and Moving On

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pp. 391-402

It was 1905 and the anthropologists had returned to their former lives; Gerald Fowke and William Mills went back to their museums and students found new jobs not in anthropology. Native anthropologists continued to work, write, and lobby for sovereign rights. Some anthropologists left the busy world of the fair behind to pursue new professional interests. Albert Jenks returned ...

Appendix 1. McGee's Racial Classification Schemes

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pp. 403-404

Appendix 2. Native Participants

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pp. 405-416


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pp. 417-468


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pp. 469-510


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pp. 511-536

E-ISBN-13: 9780803213944
E-ISBN-10: 0803213948

Page Count: 544
Illustrations: 49 photos, 2 maps, 6 tables, index
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Critical Studies in the History of Anthropology