Whose Fair?: Experience, Memory, and the History of the Great St. Louis Exposition

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Overview

The 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair was a major event in early-twentieth-century America. Attracting millions of tourists, it exemplified the Victorian predilection for public spectacle. The Fair has long served as a touchstone for historians interested in American culture prior to World War I and has endured in the memories of generations of St. Louis residents and visitors. In Whose Fair? James Gilbert asks: what can we learn about the lived experience of fairgoers when we compare historical accounts, individual and collective memories, and artifacts from the event?

Exploring these differing, at times competing, versions of history and memory prompts Gilbert to dig through a rich trove of archival material. He examines the papers of David Francis, the Fair’s president and subsequent chief archivist; guidebooks and other official publications; the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis; diaries, oral histories, and other personal accounts; and a collection of striking photographs. From this dazzling array of sources, Gilbert paints a lively picture of how fairgoers spent their time, while also probing the ways history and memory can complement each other.

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Editorial Reviews

Choice

"Gilbert builds on Michel de Certeau's theoretical work on mass culture, seeking to learn what we can about the lived experience of fairgoers by comparing historical accounts, artifacts, and individual and collective memories. . . . As Gilbert correctly points out, 'The enduring difference between history and memory is a major challenge to our understanding of the past.' This book helps meet that challenge."
Carl Smith

“This is an informative, intriguing, wise, and notably well written book by a master historian. Whose Fair? is full of important insights and information, lucidly framed and brilliantly analyzed, on what happened at the fair, how it was presented, and how it has been remembered and analyzed.”

Gary Gerstle

“Once again James Gilbert has combined imaginative archival work with a keen and probing intellect to produce an exemplary piece of cultural history. Whose Fair? offers unexpected research discoveries, acute interpretations of what the St. Louis World Fair meant to its diverse groups of visitors, and, finally, a profound meditation on the intersection of experience, memory, and history. A gem of a book.”

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226293103
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 11/15/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 232
  • Sales rank: 1,412,465
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

James Gilbert is professor of history at the University of Maryland. He is the author of ten books, including Perfect Cities: Chicago’s Utopias of 1893 and Men in the Middle: Searching for Masculinity in the 1950s, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Preface

Introduction

One. Fair Itineraries: Experience, Memory, and the History of the Fair

Two. Making History

Three. Making Memories

Four. Making Images

Five. Mrs. Wilkins Dances

Six. The Beholder’s Eye: Making Experience

Seven. Making Identities

Notes

Index

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