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Unformatted text preview: RACE, NATION, AND CITIZENSHIP IN LATE NINETEENTH-CENTURY AMERICA, 1878-1900 M ae M . N gai In the summer of 1893 the World's Columbian Exposition was held in Chicago, celebrating the four hundredth anniversary of Columbus's arrival in the New World. It was a huge exposition, with gleaming neo- classical buildings that housed triumphant displays of American science, industry, and commerce as well as exhibits from other nations of the world. More than 27.5 million Americans visited the fair. Dubbed the "White City," it was projected as a utopian dream that marked America's progress since 1492 and called the nation to its future. Myriad symbols and practices of racial exclusion and hierarchy per- vaded the ideas of nation and world embodied by the Columbian Exposition, themes that captured and unified the trends of race and nationalism in the late nineteenth century. The fair's governing boards excluded African Americans, prompting black leaders to protest and boycott the event. Of the few African American exhibits, the most popular was the living advertisement of Aunt Jemima, performed by a former slave, for the RT Davis Milling Company's pancake mix. The fair's Department of Anthropology displayed living American Indians from various reservations making and selling handicrafts. The popular- ity of that exhibit seemed to indicate white Americans' desire to situate Indians in the past as an exotic, backward race. These representations of African Americans and American Indians underscored their exclusion from the mainstream of American society and from the fair's notions of national progress and achievement. Indeed, the dream of the White City could be understood only as it stood in relation to the exposition's other major feature, the Midway Plaisance, a mile-long row that combined honky-tonk entertainments with an encyclopedic exhibition of the world's races. Living "ethnological Race, Nation, and Citizenship, 1878-190o 97 villages" set out a racial order from barbarism to civilizationstarting at the far end with American Indians, Africans and Dahomeyans, the latter considered by white fair goers as the most savage and threatening, then proceeding to East Asia, West Asia, and the Islamic world (with exotic Orientalist themes) and then, finally, nearest to the gates of the White City, German and Irish villages, representing the Teutonic and Celtic races. Because China boycotted the exposition in protest of the Chinese exclusion laws, the presentation of Chinese civilization was reduced to a Midway display described by the Chicago Tribune as "Freaks of Chinese Fancy at the Fair." The White City and the Midway were designed as an object lesson for the masses in the evolutionary path of humankind, which marked the racial identity and "place" of the world's peoples. The obsession with anthropology and ethnology at the Columbian Exposition reflected the emergence and influence of scientific racism in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The "scientific" ordering of civilization accordingnineteenth century....
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