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Technology and Culture 41.3 (2000) 629-630
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The Inglorious Arts of Peace: Exhibitions in Canadian Society during the Nineteenth Century
The Inglorious Arts of Peace: Exhibitions in Canadian Society during the Nineteenth Century. By E. A. Heaman. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999. Pp. viii+412; illustrations, notes/references, index. $50.
E. A. Heaman has written an impressive book that provides the best available overview of nineteenth-century Canadian exhibitions. Heaman sees exhibitions in intellectual terms, as being rooted in Enlightenment theory defined or refined in Victorian politics and economics. Exhibitions are mounted by promoters (notably bureaucrats, politicians, and journalists), sometimes directly connected with government. They must, however, meet the needs of exhibitors and suit the predilections of audiences. The interplay of promoter, exhibitor, and spectator adds complexity to the stories Heaman tells. Exhibitions, which may have been didactic in conception, were increasingly entertaining in practice; theory and reality were at odds. "Exhibitions were about power, knowledge, influence, and money" (p. 27).
The Inglorious Arts of Peace splits into three parts. In the first two, Heaman examines the history of exhibitions in central Canada (what is now Ontario and Quebec) and Canadian participation at international fairs: "Both begin with serious and earnest origins, move on to discuss the politics of knowledge and its relation to political forms, and finish with the triumph of popular culture" (p. 219). In the third section, Heaman examines the ways in which women and aboriginals interacted with national and international exhibitions. Women quite early took significant public roles in exhibitions, and were able to be self-assertive and politically active. As for Indians, the Department of Indian Affairs seems to have welcomed their participation in exhibitions as a step toward assimilation, but it provided little funding. In the twentieth century it banished Native encampments from many exhibitions, particularly international exhibitions where Canadian officials wanted to showcase technological progress and saw the Native presence as subversive. In any case, Heaman concludes, Native culture was far more than was visible to whites.
Many of the conclusions are not very compelling, partly because they reflect Heaman's assumptions and historical models. She often finds it difficult to distinguish causes and effects. Even when exhibitions worked as they ought, she concludes that they "most helped the economy where the economy could most help itself" (p. 97). Many of the ironies that emerge in this book flow from the author's attempt to apply the assumptions of the Enlightenment, and of Gramsci and Foucault. There would be fewer ironies if the book worked from Victorian ideological constructs and situations. Given that so little money was expended by governments, it is curious to see Heaman's concern that exhibitions concentrated, rather than redistributed, wealth. The political context of exhibitions is disputable. Heaman works [End Page 629] with an elastic definition of hegemony, misreads the significance of responsible government, underestimates the significance of distance, and perhaps needs a subtler view of patronage. While she discusses judging a few times, she misses good opportunities to explore the relationships between promoters, exhibitors, and audiences; judges came from all three constituencies.
Technology plays a smaller part in the book than one might expect, considering the importance of the Victorian ideas of improvement that flourished from Jeremy Bentham to Samuel Smiles to John Ruskin. Heaman notes the central role of manufactures in exhibitions, especially after London's Great Exhibition of 1851. Canadian agricultural implements were dominant at Ontario exhibitions by the late 1850s, whereas McCormick and Hussey machines had been present by invitation early in the decade. Rarely were the implements tested, which presented problems at some international fairs, but on the whole Canadian manufactures fared well.
The pivotal chapter is titled "Exhibition Culture." Here, Heaman shows how audiences were the historical agents who transformed exhibitions in the direction of amusement and away from instruction. Agricultural exhibits were no longer the great draw. Manufactures were more likely to be shown by retailers than by manufacturers. She also shows how the fair became more like the world, and...