Darwinism at the World’s Fair: Investigating Progress, Marvel and Murder on the Eve of the American Century

Andy Miller
Day/Time Taught: 
TR 5:00-6:15 pm
Course Number: 

Few events illustrate the crucible of change in Victorian America like the 1893 World’s Fair and Columbian Exposition. One of the largest single gatherings in history, the Fair involved many visionaries and “firsts.” It promoted a greater international understanding and advancements in art, literature and technology. Lighting designs by Tesla and Westinghouse would forever change the use of electricity. Architects such as Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright played a central role in creating an astonishing - but temporary layout. Academic fields also gained newfound respect. For instance, historian Frederick Jackson Turner presented the most widely-discussed essay in American historiography at the Exposition, Significance of the Frontier in American History. Anthropology also made strides with well-placed efforts by social science pioneer Franz Boas to demonstrate the “progress of civilization.” The World’s Fair marked a profound shift in American foreign policy, being set in the same decade as the Spanish-American War and the Annexation of Hawaii. It was no coincidence that America’s Great White Naval Fleet was proudly displayed at the fair. The zeitgeist of Social Darwinism was reaching a zenith, as the Fair embraced all that Columbus had started 400 years before. Yet, not everyone trumpeted positive notes. Labor leaders, anti-imperialists, African Americans, suffragists and Native Americans challenged what they saw as a facade of progress. Drawing from this rich mix of tension and marvel, this seminar will focus on this unique moment in the American story. Using primary resources, virtual tours, digital archives, and lively scholarship, students will assess the social, political and economic changes demonstrated by the Fair. Readings will draw from the likes of Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, as well as Erik Larson and Walter LaFeber. Since Fair planners hoped to promote internationalism, the course will require out-of-class experiences that highlight internationalism in the ASU community. We will conclude by assessing the role played by Fairs and Expositions over the past 150 years. With the approaching Expo 2012 in South Korea, and the fact that the US has not hosted an Exposition since 1984, students will debate their relevance in the age of globalization.



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The First Year Seminar is part of the General Education Program located in Anne Belk Hall, Room 250.

Phone: 828-262-2028

Our mailing address:
First Year Seminar
ASU Box 32065
Appalachian State University
Boone, NC 28608

Director of First Year Seminar:
Dr. Martha McCaughey

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