Year of Publication

2012

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

History

First Advisor

Dr. Phil Harling

Abstract

Following the first world exhibition, the 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, exhibitions became routine events across the West that merged both education and entertainment to forward political and economic goals. For the most part scholars have taken the frequency, popularity, and propagandistic efforts of exhibitions at face value, viewing them as successful reassertions of the imperial, industrial, and technological superiority of Western nation-states. Though offering valuable insights into the cultural technologies of imperial rule, these works miss the complexities of imperial projects within specific temporal and geographical contexts.

This manuscript traces the historical dynamics of India at exhibitions held in London during and after imperial rule: the 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition, the 1908 Franco-British Exhibition, the 1924-25 British Empire Exhibition, and the 1951 Festival of Britain. In historicizing the exhibitionary administration and display of India over time, this study argues for a more complex reading of exhibitions in which displays invoked a mélange of meanings that destabilized as well as projected imperial hierarchies. It also examines the ways in which Indians administered, evaluated, and contested imperial displays. Rather than seamlessly reinforcing imperial dominance, exhibitions, located within specific historical contexts, emerged as contested, multifaceted, and even ambiguous portrayals of empires.

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