- The Trans-Mississippi and International Expositions of 1898–1899: Art, Anthropology, and Popular Culture at the Fin de Siècle ed. by Wendy Jean Katz
In his introduction to this volume, Robert Rydell addresses the through-lines that bind the eight essays together. Focused on Omaha’s World Fairs of 1898 and 1899, the essays, he writes, demonstrate the “complexities of America’s imperial project” (18) at the local, national, and (as with all expositions) transnational levels—a formidable topic, to be sure. A particular strength of this edited collection, however, is the variety of methodologies that the scholars employ. Material culture analysis, for example, uncovers the tangible if not tactile dynamics of the amazing “stuff” of the fairs. Bonnie M. Miller’s investigation of the commemorative stamps, for instance, reveals the heightened consumerism that underscored the whole endeavor—a consumerism that included white women as symbols of frontier ideals, according to Tracey Jean Boisseau in her essay, “Condensed Loveliness.” In many of the essays, attention to the politics of racial and cultural (re)presentation create compelling comparisons of the exposition’s overt goals and intentions, and the more latent and nuanced messaging of mid-American attitudes about self and others. Particularly interesting because of the Omaha locale is Akim Reinhardt’s discussion in “Indigenous Identities in the Imperialist Imagination” and Nancy J. Parezo’s “Exposition Anthropology” that explores the (re)presentation of the American Indian and transformation of frontier myths (or lack of transformation) in the Progressive Era.
Overall, this book of essays demonstrates the complexity of world’s fairs in general and of these world’s fairs specifically. Many of the authors highlight the Nebraska location as significant to the ethos of the events—and rightfully so, as these grand productions were necessarily local and worldly by nature. Close readings with an eye to the larger picture is particularly well cultivated in this volume. Despite the success of the individual contributions, and the heft of the publication, it is not and cannot be the last work on the particularly fascinating trans-Mississippi and international expositions. Overall, the book provides a significant addition of high-quality scholarly work to a fascinating topic, and does what good scholarship should do. It opens multiple conversations and lines of inquiry that will surely lead in any number of new directions. [End Page 311]
University of Wyoming