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  • Boosting a New West: Pacific Coast Expositions 1905–1916 by John C. Putman
  • Chelsea K. Vaughn
Boosting a New West: Pacific Coast Expositions 1905–1916 by John C. Putman Washington State University Press, Pullman, 2020. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. 316 pages. $34.95 paper.

Between 1905 and 1915, four separate West Coast cities hosted large, international expositions: the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland (1905); the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle (1909); the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco (1915); and the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego (also 1915). Similar international expositions, or world's fairs, proliferated throughout the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, bringing millions of visitors, along with their tourist dollars, to the host city. In Boosting a New West, historian John C. Putman uses the four Pacific Coast expositions to examine both how those in the West understood their rapidly evolving society and how this, in turn, was conveyed to potential visitors from the eastern United States. Here Putman finds that the western sense of regional identity was often at odds with outsiders' expectations of the West that were heavily influenced by popular entertainments, such as dime novels and wild west shows. Visitors might expect—or alternately be repulsed by—an idea of the West as a dangerous and dusty frontier. In the process, Putman reminds readers that little over a century ago area boosters actually struggled to convince people to relocate to (or even visit) the Pacific Coast.

Putman situates his research within the larger body of scholarship beginning with Robert Rydell's 1985 work All the World's a Fair, which explores the historic and cultural significance of international expositions, particularly those occurring in the western United States. Yet, he seeks to differentiate himself from the existing scholarship, noting that, "although much of the extant historiography on the Pacific Coast expositions has focused on issues of race and empire, this study attempts to broaden our understanding of how these fairs sold the Far West to those living outside the region" (p. 5). Issues of race and empire, however, are certainly concerns of Putman's as well (and form the titles of two of his eight chapters). Exposition organizers used both as points of promotion. To these boosters, the growth of the western ports seemed inevitable with the U.S. expansion into the Pacific, and the racial diversity of the West could be exoticized to pique the interests of those in the East. Complimenting Putman's work are lovely, full-color images dispersed throughout the text.

Boosting a New West's organization allows Putman to clearly lay out his arguments in an effort to make his case. Chapters 1 and 2 introduce the subjects that form the basis of Putman's study, respectively offering an overview of the four Pacific Coast fairs and the developments in advertising that coincided with their production. Putman then organizes his subject matter both geographically and chronologically, dedicating three chapters to the earlier Pacific Coast fairs and another three to the later California fairs. Each three-chapter set concerns itself with the same set of issues associated with their selected expositions, even borrowing chapter titles across sets. The chapters beginning with, "Selling the Promise of the Far West…" examine popular misconceptions that outsiders held of the West and how promoters attempted to counter these ideas. Those beginning "Selling Nature and Land(scapes)…" explore the appeals to would-be migrants, noting the close juxtaposition of urban centers with natural wonders, while also touting the potential of irrigation projects to transform the less-desirable arid landscape into an oasis of small farms. Finally, the chapters beginning "Race and Empire…" explore the complexity of these topics, both in terms of a western reality [End Page 109] and how they might appeal to eastern interests and ideas, which often offered contradictory images of the region's Native American and Asian populations. Visitors might thrill at the action of a wild west show while also being reassured by the perceived progress made through Indian Boarding Schools. Throughout, Putman adheres closely to his central examination of how host cities promoted themselves to outside communities in an effort...


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