American Indians at Chicago's Columbian Exposition


In this essay, we look at another method of doing cultural anthropology. Ethnography is not the only way that anthropologists learn about another culture. They can also select a specific cultural event and deconstruct it to discover the kinds of discourses—the representations that shape the way a particular topic is conceived and experienced. In this case, we will consider the ways in which Indian images are marketed to the American public. In the process, we will also see how cultural anthropologists use the past to understand the present.

The event we will focus upon is the Columbian Exposition of 1893, a World’s Fair that was held on the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago from May to October of 1893. The Chicago World’s Fair was an incredibly popular and immensely influential social and cultural event. Though it existed for only six months, it drew over 27 million visitors from every state in the United States and a fair percentage of foreign countries as well—this is especially dramatic considering the difficulties of travel during this period.


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   Department of Anthropology
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