The new disciplines of ethnography and anthropology emerge at the international exhibitions where human diversity is centre stage.
The new disciplines of anthropology and ethnography were major contributors at the World’s Fairs. While Western organisers were keen to emphasise the modern, technologically superior West, the “non-Western” world they tended to present focused on subjective and physiognomic differences, habits and customs, and the quality of “native crafts”. These characteristics of peoples of other nations were sometimes admired and frequently trivialised in the press, but to disseminate such views was entirely acceptable at the time and betrayed popularly held beliefs and preconceptions. In pursuit of an alleged “authenticity”, distant lands were re-created in microcosm, as a blend of the picturesque and the “strange”, with the intention of “educating” and delighting with pure spectacle. At its most degrading, these World’s Fairs exhibited human beings in enclosures, while didactic and scientific arguments were employed to spread colonial propaganda proclaiming that the expansion of civilisation and the Western economy were inevitable and historically necessary.