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Reviews Peter H. Hoffenberg. An Empire on Display: English, Indian, and Australian Exhibitionsfrom the CrystalPalace to the Great War. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 2001. 445. $50.00. Peter H. Hoffenberg prefaces his book with the claim that it will furnish "fresh addenda" to the history of the causes and consequences of a Victorian and Edwardian exhibition mania. This characterisation is too modest. Hoffenberg's meticulously researched and ambitiously conceived book constitutes an important and original examination of English and colonial exhibition culture in the sixty years leading up to World War I. As Hoffenberg points out, current scholars often replicate the Victorian monomania for the Great Exhibition of 1851 by focusing on this founding monster spectacle to the exclusion of the many other influential exhibitions it inspired. His book sets out to remedy this oversight. In this respect,An Empire on Display might usefully be understood as a sequel to Richard Altick's TheShowsofLondon. Both are encyclopaedic in their reach, and Hoffenberg picks up where Altick leaves off. According to Altick, until the triumph of rational recreation at the Crystal Palace, English exhibition culture was a largely miscellaneous if exuberant enterprise attracting a London audience in the service of unabashedly commercial interests. The exhibition culture Hoffenberg describes is a horse of a very different colour. It aspires to institutionalise the forms invented by the Great Exhibition. It is transnational, bureaucratic, and dedicated to the promotion of free trade. All that is not to say that this new, improved, and recognisably modern exhibition culture is boring. The details that populate An Empire on Display are as eye-opening and abundant as the objects which must have crammed the exhibition spaces Hoffenberg depicts. Hoffenberg examines thirty-three major exhibitions in England, Australia , and India for their role in the symbolic construction of the New Imperialism. As he demonstrates, most of these exhibitions featured displays that literalised at least one of the two metaphors mid-Victorian observers most often used to characterise the Crystal 104volume 28 number 2 Reviews Palace: the factory and the Orientalist romance. According to Hoffenberg , exhibition commissioners used machines-in-motion courts to inculcate the "ideal of the rational and self-regulating factory as a metaphor for society, and the general ideology of industrialism" (167) and to chart the path of "progress" from a (European) centre to a (colonial) periphery. Exhibition officials designed other displays to invoke Eastern bazaars, tea gardens, and festivals. Hoffenberg argues that these displays not only played to the fantasies of European visitors , but that they were "part of the general scheme to reinvent traditionalist Indian society, culture and political authority after the Sepoy Mutiny" (230). Broadly speaking, post-1851 exhibitions depicted Australia as a "new" settler society (a terre nullius populated by white miners and entrepreneurs) and India as an "antique" subject society (a land of princes, artisans, and ancient monuments) to promote the ideal of a "co-operative federation" and to give visitors more accessible ways of imagining the British Empire. But Hoffenberg doesn't stop here. He looks beyond these patterns and the message of imperial power they spectacularised to dissect their ironies and point to their omissions. (He discloses how the images of work on display at the exhibitions belied the kind of working-class labour that produced the exhibition spaces themselves.) An Empire on Display reveals how the exhibitions escaped the designs of their organisers. (He tells a story about the confusion a group of Aborigines precipitated when they attended the AdelaideJubilee International Exhibition in 1887.) And Hoffenberg concludes that these spectacles became particularly dramatic staging grounds for the conflict between the rise of colonial nationalism and the ideology of the New Imperialism. Along the way, he explains how gender and class compounded the complications this conflict created. (He elucidates the controversy over the introduction of Zenana Days for wealthy women in.purdah at the Calcutta International Exhibition in 1883-84.) An Empire on Display is richly interdisciplinary. Hoffenberg relies on a wide range of sources to reconstruct the exhibitions and work out his arguments, including contemporary periodicals, newspapers, Victorian Review105 Reviews lectures, poems, and songs; exhibition handbooks and catalogues; government documents; diaries and letters...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 104-107
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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