Graduate School Seminar: Modernity on Display: Technology, Science and the Culture Wars at International Expositions circa World War II

Organised by the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Languages

Seminar abstract:

Introduction: Modernity and the Uses of Display

Part I: “Whose Modernity? Social Reform and Commerce at the 1939 New York World’s Fair”

Part II: “The Appian Way to Modernity: Past Meets Future at Mussolini’s World Fair of Rome”

International expositions are receiving significant attention from historians of science and technology, and of culture more generally. These complex events mirror ideological and national rivalries as well as domestic social, economic and political struggles. In short, they are remarkable indices of important historical tensions. 

Especially interesting are the international expositions planned and/or mounted just before the outbreak of the Second World War. These expositions reflected the political regimes of the host countries, and in some cases serious divisions within them. They also highlight increasingly tense ideological divisions between nations representing liberal or social democratic republics (France and the US), communist (Soviet Union) and reactionary modernist or fascist regimes such as Germany, Italy and Japan.

The book in progress on which this seminar will be based includes chapters about World’s Fairs and expositions from 1937 to 1942, drawing upon three actually built, Paris, 1937, Dusseldorf 1937 and New York 1939, and two planned in detail but, owing to the coming of war, never executed, Tokyo 1940 and Rome 1942. The presentations this afternoon will use two examples – New York 1939 and Rome 1942 – to illuminate the representation of science and technology at these fairs as indicators of modernity as part of the on-going culture and propaganda wars preceding actual hostilities.

This event is open and free. R.S.V.P. (and further information) Sharon Sinclair, [email protected]