How Would YOU Have Felt at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair?

I was fortunate enough to be among a group of teacher scholars this summer who are interested in studying American imperialism and the social beliefs that go along with it.  They included Caroline Allison, Amy Fedele, and Chris Selvaggio.  Although we are taught to think of the late 19th century as an era of booming business, life-changing inventions, and great social change as students... it was also a time when Americans bought wholly into Social Darwinism.  In fact, many believed that a person's value was linked to his race and ethnicity.  Studying how America chose to represent itself and other peoples from around the world at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair is a great way to help students understand this mindset.

Our group came up with 1893 Chicago World's Fair: Who Holds the Power?.

Students start by watching the video below.  While the narrator's voice is a little high pitched, the information presented captures the main ideas behind imperialism and gives students a brief explanation of what occurred at the fair.

For a more thorough look at the fair, students can tour maps and images of the exposition, including the video tour below.  It was created by an Harvard University Graduate School of Design student.

Then students choose to take on an identity.  They will try to see the fair from the perspective of their chosen role.  Each role has its own page on the website describing the identity in more detail .  There are also recommeded exhibits for the student to visit.  Roles include:
  • German Immigrant
  • Native American
  • African American
  • Japanese Diplomat
  • Female Mill Worker
  • Captain of Industry
  • Inventor
The culminating project is a scrapbook or photo book in which student annotates a few photographs explaining how the sights and exhibits pictured made them feel, from the perspective of their chosen role.  Our hope was for students to try to experience the dominating racist ideologies of Americans in the late 19th century from the perspective of one the minorities who had to struggle through this time.


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