Meet Me at the Fair: Sociability and Reflexivity in Nineteenth-Century World Expositions

Manon Niquette (Universite Laval)

William Buxton (Concordia University)

Abstract: The reception process of the exposition medium cannot be dissociated from the interpersonal setting in which the visitors are involved. This paper begins with a review of the studies done on sociability in museums. It shows that issues related to reflexivity, as they bear on both the properties of the medium and the relations between visitors, have been neglected. The review is followed by a study of the social experience of world's fair visitors in the nineteenth century, at the birth of the modern museum. This is done through a content analysis of cartoons showing visitors in interaction with one another. It is argued that the exposition medium became a space of social differentiation through linkages between three levels of reflexivity: (1) institutional reflexivity, which is related to the ways by which the exposition transforms the crowd into a self-regulating organization; (2) individual reflexivity of visitors' interaction through which the exposition becomes a strategic space for the negotiation of self-identity; and (3) reflexive action of humour magazines, the role of which was to create categories of social interaction in public places and to reduce them to stereotypes.

Résumé: Le processus de réception inhérent au média "exposition" ne peut être dissocié des rapports interpersonnels dans lesquels sont engagés les visiteurs. La revue des études réalisées sur la sociabilité au musée montre que les phénomènes de réflexivité, tant en ce qui concerne les propriétés du média que les relations entre visiteurs, ont été négligés. Cette revue est suivie d'une étude de l'expérience sociale des visiteurs lors d'une exposition universelle du dix-neuvième siècle, à l'origine du musée moderne. Pour ce faire, les auteurs ont analysé le contenu d'une série de dessins humoristiques sur lesquels sont représentés des visiteurs interagissant les uns avec les autres. Il est soutenu que l'imbrication de trois niveaux de réflexivité a fait du média "exposition" un lieu de division et de différenciation sociale: 1) la réflexivité institutionnelle qui a fait de la foule une organisation auto-régulatrice; 2) la réflexivité individuelle émanant des interactions entre visiteurs et en vertu de laquelle l'exposition est devenue un espace stratégique de négociation de l'identité personnelle; 3) la réflexivité des magazines d'humour dont le rôle était de créer des catégories décrivant des façons d'interagir en public et de réduire ces catégories à de simples stéréotypes.


This paper focuses on one specific type of media whose properties are intrinsically related to sociability: the museum and its parallel institution, the exposition. Because museums are also public places, they provide the best setting for the observation of collective processes of interpretation. Numerous studies have shown that most museum visitors are accompanied by one or more individuals (see Allaire, 1990; Cooperrider, 1977; Draper, 1984; Eidelman, 1992; Esherick, Homsey, Dodge, & Davis, 1976; Hill, 1971; Hodges, 1978; Kuehl, 1976; Kwong, 1976; Laetsch, Diamond, Gottfried, & Rosenfeld, 1980; LeResche, 1974; Schiele, Tarpin, & Daignault, 1991; Wing, 1982). Moreover, the few visitors who are by themselves are never completely alone: they are always under the scrutiny of others or at least of a camera. As Goffman (1971) put it, individual conduct is subject to the rules which regulate people's manners in public places. But because museums are also constituted as mass-mediatic environments, the visitors' interpretive behaviour--not only their general conduct--conforms to the same kind of rules. People must process information in front of others. This necessity brings them to control the ways in which they reveal their own knowledge and the ways in which they hide their ignorance. To what extent this high degree of reflexivity affects their relation to the totality of the exposition should be at the heart of any museum-visitor study. However, few studies have taken this variable into account. Concerns of this kind--as will be shown in the following pages--were of prime importance right at the birth of the modern public museum, since the beginnings of what Bennett (1988) has identified as "the exhibitionary complex."

We will begin by presenting an overview of those museum studies in which sociability is an important component. We will then explore how the nineteenth-century exposition, as a public educational space in which everyone could both see and be seen, has been bound up with the negotiation of self-identity in face-to-face interaction. In other words, we will see how the institutional reflexivity of the media exposition became tied to individual reflexivity. Our study will emphasize the experience of the visitors rather than the plan of the exposition designers. This will be done through an analysis of cartoons depicting various situations in which world's fair visitors interact with one another. In doing so, we will discuss the operation of a third level of reflexivity: how the humour in the popular press processed impressions of interpersonal behavior and re-inserted them into everyday life.

Interpersonal communication in museums:
Sociability as a research issue

The first rigorous study of interpersonal relations in museums was undertaken in 1935 by Arthur W. Melton. Paradoxically, this research aimed to demonstrate that one can better understand the efficacy of museum displays by examining the conduct of non-accompanied visitors rather than that of accompanied ones. With the introduction of goal-oriented behaviourism in the 1970s, museum evaluators began to consider how social factors influenced the relationship between visitors and museum exhibits. However, with the growing sophistication of interactive displays, visitors increasingly required linguistic rather than mechanical skills to operate these exhibits effectively (Suchman, 1987). Goal-oriented approaches failed to consider the sharing of meanings. Because reception had been traditionally viewed in mechanical terms, behaviourists saw it as an organic process rather than as a cultural phenomenon. Therefore, the references to biology in museum studies--in relation to interpersonal communication--appeared in the guise of environmentalist (Lakota & Kantner, 1976) and ecological (Hodges, 1978) perspectives. Even though approaches of this kind were predominantly behaviourist in orientation, their extension to the domain of museum studies nevertheless represented a major breakthrough: visitors' interaction was now conceived as an integral part of the museum's context. But learning was still thought of as a matter of acquisition rather than one of personal development. On this point, naturalistic research represented a significant step. This approach, called "goal-free evaluation" by Wolf & Tymitz (1978), was based on the assumption that visitors' motives to spend time in museums differed radically from the ones for which the exhibits are built. Unlike methods based on the control of variables, the naturalistic approach encouraged a total openness to the immediate experience of the subjects and to their own meanings. This position broke with earlier models inspired by biology but its reference to "natural processes" and its emphasis on natural observation--derived from ethology--placed naturalistic approaches closer to organic perspectives than to anthropological ones. Instead of describing the museum as an institution in which social roles are confirmed or negotiated, naturalists read their results in terms of need-satisfaction. Therefore, the quality of a museum was measured by its capacity to respond to visitors' motives or, in other words, its capacity to adapt itself to the rules of the market.

Ethnology could have provided more appropriate tools for the study of social interaction in museums but anthropologists such as Cone & Kendall (1978) and Draper (1984) have largely examined interpersonal communication in a very deterministic fashion. Their view was interactional only insofar as it shows that cultural patterns of a relationship are a decisive factor in museum practice. They described neither the processes by which these patterns take shape nor how the properties of the museum, as a medium of social knowledge, contribute to their genesis. Their logic was merely one of mechanical reproduction. Modern museums, at their origin, were part of a civilizing program. In this sense, they were intended as a site for the diffusion of "civilized" ideals of behaviour (Bennett, 1988). This does not mean, however, that their actual influence on social life is necessarily as determinist as this.

The other studies on sociability in museums can be divided into two groups: the cognitivist and the interpretive approaches. While the former derives from the behavioural tradition, the latter borrows its methods from communication theories, conversational analysis, and semiotics. The interpretive turn in museum research echoes the growing penetration of semiotic and linguistic theories into the social sciences. In communication studies, this influence was evident in a gradual substitution of the term "message" by the term "text." The message/text controversy became more prominent in the late 1980s and the early 1990s through various debates on the structural properties of the text and the socially located discursive reality of the readers. Even though the attribution of meanings was theoretically conceived of as a social phenomenon, research on media reception tended to focus on the domestic scene rather than on public places. Museums open new paths to empirical research in communication. Museum visits, unlike newspaper reading or television viewing, are public interpretive activities which easily lend themselves to observation by researchers.

By emphasizing how social interaction affects the way "readers" make sense of the world, interpretive approaches have, however, neglected to look at how, conversely, communicative settings influence social interaction. Even though ethnographers' observations and reflections from the earlier years were taken into consideration, the questions they had raised were abandoned. Issues related to reflexivity might have been considered, but only in order to evaluate how the sharing of meanings is altered in relation to the curators' preferred reading.

Like other media, museums are reflexive institutions. They call on regular social activities while at the same time contorting them. The most popular exhibits are the ones which destabilize everyday life rituals (Parker, 1963).10 They deconstruct people's "natural" way of seeing things. The signs marked "Please touch" or the invitations to sit on the driver's side of a locomotive, to visit the master bedroom of a historical house, and so forth, are all good examples. Visitors must reflect upon how they normally respond in everyday life situations, and must then find the most appropriate attitude to adopt in this new context. This explains why some people are so interested in looking at "how others do it" in museums. Hensel's ethnographic analysis (1982) of the Aquarium of New York was the only one to concentrate on problems related to reflexivity. She noted that (1) parents in family workshops prefer to engage in activities which are not threatening intellectually; (2) they find strategies for not looking stupid in front of others; (3) they retire from tasks which make them feel inadequate; (4) they spend a lot of time looking at others in order to voluntarily slow down their own activities; and (5) they engage with their children in games to show off their intelligence which has the effect of decreasing the interest of other participants.11 Because interpretive approaches focused on mass communication, they treated self-monitoring as a side effect. They did not address how the modern museum, as a reflexive institution, participates in the transformation of interpersonal communication.

"Whoever thought of meeting you here?":12
Sociability as a public concern

So far, Bennett's (1988) work on the museum as a civilizing agency has been mentioned only briefly. Its socio-historical perspective distinguishes it from other empirical and evaluative studies which account for sociability in museums. The problems Bennett discusses are, however, highly relevant to interpersonal communication in expositions. The author associates the birth of the modern museum with its transformation as "a reformatory space of public manners." In this sense, according to Bennett, the museum became a scene for the creation of a new citizenry, a place within which the working class could learn the rules and manners of the middle class through a dual process of assembling and differentiating these two populations. Along with other similar institutions, such as the department store, the gallery of arts, the fair, and the international exhibition, the museum forms what Bennett calls "the exhibitionary complex." Characterized by an inversion of Foucault's panoptical principle,13 the exhibitionary complex is designed in such a way that not only everyone can be seen but that everyone can see, thus transforming the crowd into a self-watching and self-regulating organization. Rather than rendering people visible to power in a coercive way, power is rendered visible to them as if it were their own.

While Bennett depicts the role of the museum as one of an educator in a new set of political relations between state and people, this position--Gramscian in part--differs greatly from that of the so-called "anthropo-interactional" perspective, for which the incorporation of people within the processes of power is rarely an issue. According to Bennett, the museum participates in the socialization and the reproduction of social behaviour but by no means acts as a replica of the external world. It has its own specific properties. The author's conception of hegemony is, above all, Foucaldian, and his main point of interest concerns how these institutional properties are involved in new forms of social management. One of Bennett's merits is to have brought to light the ways in which the modern museum serves as an instrument of "institutional reflexivity" (according to the definition given by Giddens, 1992a, p. 39), or in other words, the ways in which "the exhibitionary complex" allows information about social and interpersonal life to be routinely returned to its source thereby reconstituting it. He does not, however, address how the new museology of the nineteenth century became involved in a modern "reflexive project of the self " (Giddens, 1992b, p. 459). Reflexivity is not only institutional; it is also individual.

Richard Sennett's (1974) work on public life is quite illuminating on this point. Inverting David Riesman's argument on the passage from an inner-directed society to an other-directed one,14 Sennett describes the last century as an era of confusion between public and private life. Works such as Carlyle's Sartor Resartus, the first "philosophy of clothes"; Darwin's application of ethology to the human body in The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals; Bertillon's measurements of the interior of the skull; and Freud's studies on the location of sexual passion and anger in the brain, typify this period in its use of appearances as indices of moral predispositions. Concurrently, a whole class of educated people, afraid of their involuntary non-verbal expressions, were coping with an urge to suppress or to control these impulses. A new category was being introduced into the public realm, namely, the individual personality. Along with it, we should add, appeared the fear to be associated with the lower segments of "moral nobility." Therefore, the desire to control the indices which could lead to such classification--like clothes, language, and manners--marked the entrance of the petite bourgeoisie into an absolutisation of social differences or into what Bourdieu (1979) calls "the game of distinction."

While Sennett sheds light on individuals' altered behaviour on the street, he does not explore the museum scene. No account is made of this unique exhibitionary space, where, as Bennett states, people are both the subject and the object of knowledge. The question we raise remains unanswered: how does information transmitted instantly in public places affect interpersonal behaviour and shape, in turn, the integration of this information into social practices? A transition must be made between the macro and the micro levels of communication. Bennett describes the mechanisms of mutual surveillance which, by the end of the last century, allowed the organization of new types of social cohesion. In terms of interpersonal communication, he does not indicate how these mechanisms were embodied in a continuous negotiation of self-identity, nor how the museum became a strategic space for this social activity. His analysis of museums, fairs, expositions, and related institutions is limited to the plans and projections of their directors. He does not address the degree to which the visitors' behaviour was really in accordance with these plans.

World's Fair cartoons: Sketching the genesis of socialization
in public education through nineteenth-century media

Assessing visitors' self-monitoring at the birth of the modern museum is beyond the limits of possibility. Material relevant to individual experience is rare and scattered. Moreover, items which have some bearing on these issues (such as personal diaries, novels, or journalistic accounts) provide very limited data on people's reflexive monitoring of action. Only a few documents, such as Andrew Carnegie's article on the value of the 1893 world's fair to the American people, can give a general idea of the attitude of the crowd: "The self-governing capacity of the people shone forth resplendently. The foreigner's verdict is that without official direction or supervision every individual governed himself and behaved like a gentleman. So much for universal education" (1894, p. 422).

Along the same lines, another account of the educational and moral value of the exposition reports:

There was no symbol of control, for no control was needed. There was no instance of excess, or intoxication, or disorder. There was no soldiery, and no police other than the uniformed servants of the Exposition, who were guides rather than guards. This vast multitude--intelligent, interested, happy--was itself an Exposition of the progress and the social status of an educated and free people, moving amid such scenes of beauty and such treasuries of information. (Peabody, 1898, p. 495)

Nevertheless, these quotations only reflect the opinion of world's fair advocates. While they confirm Bennett's main argument, they do not offer much information about how people adapt their behaviour to the incoming information about themselves.

One way of learning more about the social reality of a given period is to look at what humourists had to say at that time. Often overlooked, cartoons offer a complex and detailed view of people's concerns, values, and opinions. Of course, the picture offered is deliberately an inaccurate one; it provides truth about a subject by lying about its form and contours (Perkins, 1976). Its level of thought is that of a reflexive stereotype: the cartoon is a second-order cliché that serves to make the receiver aware of stereotypes held in common by the mass public. It deforms to better inform (Harrison, 1981). The commonplace is its favourite target. It aims to make the familiar odd and the odd more familiar.

Nineteenth-century humour embodied a vast movement toward informality. By showing public figures and rulers engaged in everyday activities like everyone else, it influenced--as well as it reflected--popular taste and manners (Savory & Marks, 1985). Paradoxically, this new inclination toward informality was consonant with the concurrent obsession with circumspection and self-control. At a time when disclosing one's emotions was highly hazardous, the need for a space which allowed the sharing of common feelings was immense. The idea that one's basic instinct was shared by all other members of the same social group was deeply reassuring. Comic journals such as Punch (U.K.), Puck (U.S.A.), and the Petit Journal pour Rire (France) transformed the most absurd and severely judged feelings into common and legitimate perceptions. The reflexive action of these media worked on two levels. On the first level, many cartoons depicted how people controlled their conduct, manipulated their appearance, took care of their image, and checked their whole way of being in face-to-face interaction. At a "meta" level, this action brought the readers of comics to reflect on how reflexivity was present in their own social life or, in other words, to control the way they could control their own actions (Giddens, 1984). It is the combination of these two levels that makes humour such a revealing and clever art. Public events like world's fairs were a perfect target for nineteenth-century cartoonists. As a meeting place for "all the nations" and people from diverse backgrounds, they were a great source of material for the depiction of people's inner thoughts about others. Moreover, the fairs provided cartoonists with numerous stories about the involvement of the self in the social reception of public knowledge.

More than any other institution related to the exhibitionary complex, world's fairs can be considered as one of the first popular mass media. In terms of their attendance, American fairs between 1876 and 1916 attracted nearly one hundred million visitors. Admissions to the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 alone totaled 27,529,400 people (Rydell, 1984). Bearing in mind the population of the time, very few newspapers or other printed media reached that many individuals. In the face of such evidence, it would be reductionist to define mass media, as McLuhan (1965) did, only in terms of dislocation in space of the production and the reception of messages. Such a definition obscures the ways through which mass media relate social actors to social contexts. It fails to address how the media form a social space in which particular sets of social relations are constituted (Davallon, 1992). While it is hard to understand electronic media without focusing on their technological aspect, studying the genesis of socialization in nineteenth-century world's fairs provides valuable clues on how mass information affects relationships in everyday life. In this respect, world's fair cartoons reveal in a very provocative way the dynamics of sociability in international expositions as experienced by visitors.

When meeting the other is a rendez-vous manqué

One of the most significant collections of world's fair cartoons can be found in the humour magazine Puck,15 an important vehicle for comedy at the turn of the century. It produced 26 special issues--entitled World's Fair Puck --on the site of the 1893 Chicago's Columbian Exposition. From these 26 issues, totaling 312 pages, we have collected 533 cartoons, all related to sociability and the emergence of a new culture of seeing. Each of these cartoons has been classified according to the themes it represents. Table 1 shows the most recurrent themes (that is, the ones which make up at least 1% [5 or more] of the cartoons) based on two sets of categories: characters and subject matters. These categories are not exclusive: one cartoon may include a number of themes.

Table 1 Categorization of the Most Recurrent Themes Represented in World's Fair Puck
Categories of Subject Characters
women 34.7%
foreigners 18.6%
people from other states 11.6%
children 9.2%
Americans of non-British origin (mainly Irish, Chinese and Jewish) 9.0%
workers (and unions) 7.5%
rural people 5.8%
guards 5.4%
black people (Africans and African-Americans) 4.7%
natives (including Inuits) 2.8%
lodgers 2.3%
Categories of Subject Matter
knowledge 48.6%
exhibition techniques 35.1%
world's fair buildings 16.7%
money 15.9%
self-image 10.9%
class distinction 7.9%
romance 7.7%
morals (including sex and alcohol) 7.5%
fair's size 4.9%
religion 2.3%
press 1.9%
nationalism 1.3%

As is the case for any task involving a dialectical process between the researcher and the field, the divisions given in Table 1 are not only the result of the analysts' schemes of categorization. They represent the nature of sociability in the early world's fairs: stratifying people according to the way they relate to one another in a new context of mass communication. Each category of characters personifies "the other" from the standpoint of the native-born, American, white, middle-class male. The latter is not present in our categories because he does not appear explicitly in the magazine. Nevertheless, he can be found in almost all the cartoons, but except for one joke about self-made men,16 he is never pictured as representing a class. All other protagonists are framed by the use of intimated names reflecting their style of behaviour or their ethnicity, such as "Mr. and Mrs. Winterwheat" for rural people, or "Mr. Rooney" for Irishmen. The identity of the native-born, American, white, middle-class male is submerged in depictions such as "a pedestrian," "a guest," "a visitor," or "Mr. Midweigh." Sometimes he might be called "Charles Rivers" or "Mr. Lakeside" but this is to emphasize his belonging to a particular city, state, or region. By his anonymous ubiquity, the native-born, American, white, middle-class male becomes the point of reference, standing in opposition to the characters bearing stereotypical identities. As a reflection of the magazine's readership, he occupies a meta-category distinct from all of the other categories.

Sociability in late nineteenth-century mass communication is clearly based on a politics of differentiation. The rising level of literacy increased the cultural fragmentation of the population. A widening gap developed, on the one hand, between manual and intellectual work and, on the other hand, between childhood and adult life (Vincent, 1989). Yet the power of enchantment of the fair allowed for a short time the experience, or at least the illusion, of consolidating these differences. The farmer and the learned "man" were celebrated as members of a common family, namely, the nation; the adult and the child were filled equally with wonder before the gigantic machines and the magic of electricity. However what world's fair cartoons reveal is not only the persistence of cultural and social differences but also the very limits of their incompatibilities.17 An article entitled "The People as an Exhibit," published in The World's Work during the St. Louis Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904, shows how cartoons exploited what their readership saw to be the repellent aspects of the "other":

The country people are here--thousands of them.... But you do not see the "hayseed." The countryman of the comic papers does not exist. Perhaps there was such a person a generation ago, but his son has money in the bank. At least, he has good "store clothes" on his back. He does not use bad grammar. His wife is well dressed; his daughter even better; and his children are neat. They attend good schools. They make a better appearance by far than the village folk of a generation ago made. (Page, 1904, p. 5112)

Such a strong assertion about the absence of undesirable demeanour and conduct is symptomatic of the importance of the corresponding signs of differentiation in the public mind. The countryman of the comic papers might never have existed but he was alive and well as a symbolic archetype. The "hayseed"--and all the other characters represented--were still present as categories of public behaviour. They represented the manners, the comments, and the questions to be avoided when people interact in a public site for the diffusion of knowledge (such as a museum or an exposition). This ostracization also applied to the behaviour of foreigners and of the Americans of non-British origin, even though their cultural differences were an object of curiosity at the fair: "You see Scandinavian faces, Irish faces, of course, now and then Italian faces, Hebrews too, and German features. But none of these appears in sufficient numbers to disturb the general impression of the prevailing American appearance, tone and attitude of mind. They all seem to be American citizens" (Page, 1904, p. 5112).

This kind of remark reflects perfectly the paradox of all international fairs: on the one hand, world's fairs aimed to gather people from all different social and cultural groups by emphasizing their disparity whereas, on the other hand, the fair-goers were doing everything in their power to hide the distinctive marks of their identity in order to conform to the ideal of progress promoted by the exposition. While this portrait is in line with Bennett's view of the fair as "a reformatory space of public manners" through a dual process of assembling and differentiating, it also suggests how people's interaction was shaped by a continuous inflow of information about themselves.

Humour is one of the numerous devices humans use to cope with paradoxes (Bateson, Jackson, Haley, & Weakland, 1956). Universal expositions provided comic press with all the material their audience needed to reflect on their social experience at the fair. The way fair-goers became involved with one another, as depicted by the cartoons, can be divided into four different kinds of social encounters: a meeting between nations and races, a meeting between classes, a meeting between states, and a meeting between sexes. Each of these divisions corresponds to a characteristic of the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition: (1) the presence of living ethnological displays, (2) the fair's pretensions to educate the public, (3) the local support from most American states and territories, and (4) the formation of a Board of Lady Managers. For each of the four types of social encounter identified, we will describe how the cartoons' most recurrent categories of themes (including both characters and subject matters) intersect with one another. We will also address what these clusters tell us about the interpersonal experience of the visitors within the communicational context of the exposition. Quantitative measures are used only as indicators in order to help us to gain perspective and to trace, in a more objective way, various patterns of representation. But basically, we find a qualitative approach most appropriate to examine the process of interpretation. Given that a single racist or sexist joke can be significant enough to draw conclusions about its semantic value in the social sphere, both typical or atypical cartoons are considered to be significant.

A meeting between nations and races

Following the example given by the French colonial exhibits of the 1889 Paris exposition, the Chicago fair displayed a number of living ethnological displays: Irish, Eskimo, Javanese, Algerian, and Tunisian villages, a Chinese theatre, a Cairo street, and so forth. These exhibits were displayed on the Midway Plaisance which was also the site of a number of honky-tonk concessions including beauty shows, snake-charmers, and belly dancers.18 The result was disastrous for the image of non-white people as their exhibits were interpreted through the lens of social evolutionism (Benedict, 1994; Greenhalgh, 1988; Rydell, 1984). The patronizing and contemptuous air of many displays was also unflattering towards the growing immigrant population of Chicago (Harris, 1990).

Our analysis of the world's fair cartoons shows that a substantial proportion of jokes about religion (50%), nationalism (43%), romance (24%), black people (68%), and Americans of non-British origin (35%) are also related to foreigners. Echoing the claims of Stymeist (1975), the latter two associations remind us that ethnic affiliations should not be taken as equivalent to ethnic groups: while ethnic groups are actual social aggregations in which ethnicity acts as a factor of recruitment, ethnic affiliations correspond to the different ethnic categories in which people are placed--correctly or not--and that becomes part of the social consciousness. Thus, the African-Americans tend to be associated with people who serve as characters in the Dahomey exhibit and the Americans identified as being Irish, Jewish, or Chinese are easily linked to the foreigners who come to the fairs as visitors or participants.

Most of the cartoons portraying black people refer to the Dahomey exhibit. The very small number of pictures representing African-Americans not only reflects their limited participation in the fair as visitors, but also the racial compartmentalization which underpinned white people's views of ethnicity. By obscuring the cultural specificity of the African-Americans--and all the debates on whether they should have their own exhibits19--the magazine reinforced the idea that they belonged to the same ethnic category as the Dahomans, pictured as frightening for children20 and scandalous for adult eyes. The contradiction between the African-Americans' civilized attitude and their imputed ethnic affiliation with "the savage" is clearly revealed in the cartoon entitled "A Sable Surprise":

One was a dude from Dahomey, one was from Illinois--if they'd changed their costumes you [could n't]21 have told which was which of the boys. The same velvet-black epidermis; --the very same contour of face, with lips that were thick and protruding, and flat noses, broad at the base; with smiles, as they looked at each other, permitting their white teeth to show; with tops of their heads scattered over with wool where the wool ought to grow... They stood contemplating each other, a sight that was funny to see, this civilized man and that savage--but that which most paralyzed me--which gave me a shock of amazement, and my large sense of fitness a wrench, was to hear darky dialect answered in polished and elegant French! (World's Fair Puck [1893], no. 24, p. 279, emphasis added)

The way black people were dressed--whether African-Americans, Dahomans, or Fijians--was a great source of inspiration for cartoonists. Incidentally, the proportion of jokes related to the theme "self-image" (36%) within the cartoons representing black people is three times higher than within the whole set of cartoons (10.9%, see Table 1). While the cartoons insist on the fact that the Dahomans and the Fijians wear very few clothes (see, for instance, Dahomans in World's Fair Puck [1893], no. 25, p. 289 [cover]; no. 16, p. 182; and no. 25, p. 293; and Fijians in World's Fair Puck [1893], no. 24, p. 277 [cover]), they make fun of the African-Americans who dress like whites (see, for instance, World's Fair Puck [1893], no. 8, p. 89). The fair was a site where Sunday clothes were expected and, obviously, only a select few were allowed to wear them. While the exhibitionary complex had been planned as a space in which working classes could learn the rules and manners of the higher strata, it seems rather to have been a space that excluded non-whites, a world in which any attempt by them to follow the rules of the middle class could be held up to ridicule.

Americans of non-British origin were also directly or indirectly associated with outsiders. This association took three forms in the cartoons, which played on the confusion between the status of foreigner and citizen, on traditionally incompatible ethnic affiliations, and on unusual ethnic encounters. In the first case, Americans of non-British origin are confused with foreign visitors or ethnic representatives exhibited in the Midway Plaisance. For instance, a joke quotes two visitors saying that "the fourun mugs" of the Midway Plaisance "ain't in it wid der Bowery for Chinks, Matzas and Ginnies" (World's Fair Puck [1893], no. 4, p. 39). While in the exhibitionary complex people could be both subject and object of knowledge, this kind of humour indicates the extent to which the status of Americans of non-British origin was actually limited to that of an object of knowledge. Another example appears in a cartoon showing a Chinese man who writes to another that the fair is "lots of flun" and that everyday he hears people saying "The Chinese must go" (World's Fair Puck [1893], no. 6, p. 63). In the second case, those cartoons in which Americans of non-British origin are juxtaposed to ethnic traditional adversaries show, for instance, an American Jewish couple coming across an exhibitor whose building is labeled "Entrance to Temple of RAMESES II, the Oppressor of the Israelites" (see Figure 1). Finally, in the third case, jokes based on unusual ethnic encounters include the ones which display, for example, a New York Jewish salesman who regrets not having brought his stock of wool pants when he sees the naked legs of a Scotchman and of a Dahoman (see Figure 2) or an American Irishman who looks at the harness of a sedan-chair Turk and who thinks that "they be's gittin' on to our ways, but they don't know the right use of suspinders yit" (World's Fair Puck [1893], no. 8, p. 89).

25P 18P 1 Source: World's Fair Puck (1893), no. 19, p. 224.

This third and last form, involving a meeting between Americans of non-British origin and foreigners, is also used to depict atypical situations in which the former are interacting with natives. A one-page cartoon shows, for instance, an American Irishman who, to win the heart of a native woman, carved a totem pole portraying his lineage as made up of ape-like ancestors (World's Fair Puck [1893], no. 10, p. 120).22 This kind of humour is representative of a double pattern as a number of jokes about natives are also related to Americans of non-British origin (20%) or to romance (20%; compared to 9.0% and 7.7% respectively within all the cartoons). World's fairs provided cartoonists with infinite possibilities to combine ethnic stereotypes with one another, whatever the civil status of the subjects: African-American, American of non-British origin, foreigner, or native. The more incongruous the combinations, the more jarring were the jokes. In this respect, romance and religion were inspiring themes. Aside from the presence at the fair of a Woman's Building and a Parliament of Religions, this phenomenon could undoubtedly be attributed to the fears aroused in the native-born white American people by the presence of alien elements: the fear that Christian men could be captivated by other gods and that women could be seduced by strangers. Only incongruity could calm these fears and render them laughable. This was the reflexive power of humour.

21.5P 22.5P 2 Source: World's Fair Puck (1893), no. 8, p. 85 (cover page).

A meeting between classes

The 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition differed dramatically from other American expositions in the importance that it gave to the mise en scène of knowledge. Following the advice of G. Brown Good, assistant secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, the Chicago fair was designed to be a "house of ideas" rather than a collection of "specimens in glass cases" (Rydell, 1984). By presenting a model of a well planned urban area--the White City--new technologies were not just displayed as hardware; they could be promoted with regards to their broader social and cultural significance (Susman, 1983). While the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition had been planned for the pure display of its exhibits, the White City was meant to demonstrate to the American people, in a spectacular fashion, the cultural aspirations of its civilization (according to Alfred T. Goshorn, director-general of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, 1894). A heated controversy arose, however, around the requirement by the Sabbatarians that the exposition be closed on Sunday, the only day labourers were not obliged to work. Liberal churches and organized labour tried to counter the pressure. The issue was resolved in court--long after the fair had begun--and the Sunday-opening could finally be attempted (Cassell & Cassell, 1983).

However, according to a remark published in World's Fair Puck (1893, no. 12), the opening of the fair on Sunday was not a success. Workers had large families and they preferred to be with them on this day. They could not afford the expense of taking them to the fair. Moreover, many exhibits were closed, but people were still required to pay the regular price of admission. The magazine took a solid stand on this issue. A cartoon entitled "We Don't Give Up the Fight" shows a tall woman symbolizing "beneficence" and welcoming residents from a dark and polluted area to the nearby White City at a special charge of 25 (World's Fair Puck [1893], no. 7, pp. 78-79). Another joke depicts how this controversy was debated in the streets: two men are talking together and the first says "I know of a dozen men, men of means, who won't come to the Fair if it is opened [sic] on the Sabbath." The second replies "And I know of fifty thousand workingmen who can't come if it is n't" (World's Fair Puck [1893], no. 7, p. 83). Liberal humourists were clearly preaching for accessibility but this doesn't mean that the idea of a mixed public space was actually embodied in the social attitudes of the ruling class.

The problem of class division is present in a number of cartoons. Among these, 40.5% involve working-class people (unemployed included; compared to 7.5% within all cartoons), 19% raise the question of "self-image" (compared to 10.9% within all cartoons), and 11.9% have a romantic component (compared to 7.7% within all cartoons). Moreover, 32.5 % of the jokes about working-people are exclusively related to money (compared to 5.9% within all cartoons). A text entitled "All Foolishness," published in the first issue of World's Fair Puck, gives a good idea of the approach to class-related humour:

There are many enthusiastic idiots in this country who talk about the World's Fair as a "Great Educator," and who advocate the policy of disseminating learning, and making it the common property of all. What could be more ill-advised? Have these advocates reflected on the consequences?... There are some of us who modestly pursue learning for its own sake, content to receive our reward alone in the sublime elevation of soul it confers. But how should we feel if there were no one to wonder at this elevation? If common people were all brought up to our own level, how could they look at us to advantage? No, no! let [sic] the masses stay where they are. (Edward Williston, in World's Fair Puck [1893], no. 1, p. 9)

This text is obviously intended to be ironic but it nevertheless reveals the prevailing elitism behind many of the jokes. Puck was sympathetic to the cause of workers' education but in relation to topics such as labour unions, it was conservative (Mott, 1957). Most working-class people are depicted as being on strike, as lazy or as simply unemployed.

The only ones who seem to be diligent are college students who work as roller chair pushers.23 Many of them were sons of the ascending middle class, an important part of the magazine's readership. Their situation, therefore, was different from that of other fair-workers. Hence, most roller chair-pushers are represented as coping with demanding visitors who ask for more services than those for which they had paid (e.g., World's Fair Puck [1893], no. 19, p. 224; no. 13, p. 147). The other fair-workers are depicted in a much different way: some are shown making mistakes after having collectively squandered their wages at the pub (World's Fair Puck [1893], no. 3, p. 26); an attendant warns visitors to keep their hands off the exhibits, not in case of possible injuries, but because he would have to work to clean it (see Figure 3); the workers who are erecting the statue of the Triumph of Labor go on strike because the mortar hoe-handles are not Union-made (World's Fair Puck [1893], no. 24, p. 286), and so forth. Moreover, unemployed people are represented as bums or panhandlers. For instance, in a cartoon called "Does n't Appeal to His Class," one can see a "bum" saying to another that it is crazy to go to the world's fair since it is "an industrial expersition" (emphasis added; see Figure 4). The most interesting cartoon, entitled "A Free Exhibition," shows a beggar who is mistaken for an exhibitor because he asks for money in front of a gate covered with posters (World's Fair Puck [1893], no. 2, p. 14). In principle, Bennett is right; the presence of the workers in the exhibitionary complex was desirable as long as their coming in contact with more educated people would transform them into good citizens. But in the collective imagination of the world's fair public, there was no room for this kind of learning as there was no possibility for social interaction with the middle class--other than on the basis of work grievances.

23P 21.5P 3 Source: World's Fair Puck (1893), no. 9, p. 101.

There is, however, one atypical joke in which working-class people play the game of high civility; but their way of playing it is not depicted as an honourable one. In "Incognito," a man who says he is a "nobleman of honor and renown" walks on the Midway Plaisance with a woman who says her father owns a mine (World's Fair Puck [1893], no. 4, p. 39). The following day, they are both seen at a dime restaurant where she works as a waitress and where he is panhandling! The structure of this story actually belongs to a second kind of class-related cartoons: that which are self-image related or which include a romantic component. But this story differs from others in the sense that the main characters are normally petits bourgeois who aspire to a higher status. When romance becomes part of a story, as explained above, it is usually to put incompatible partners together, which means--in the case of class-related jokes--people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. The typical cartoon in this series tells the story of an average middle-class fellow who courts the daughter of a very rich man. For instance, in the one-page cartoon, "Love Indomitable," the suitor takes his beloved away from her father and climbs with her and a priest into the Ferris Wheel in order to get married. Because "what's done can't be undone," the father finally invites his son-in-law to work in his firm (World's Fair Puck [1893], no. 14, p. 168).

23P 18P 4 Source: World's Fair Puck (1893), no. 1, p. 10.

In self-image related stories, the characters try to get respect from others by claiming they are from noble origins or by showing off in their Sunday clothes. As discussed previously, the way this type of humour is connected to social life is highly complex because of the double-level of reflexivity it involves. Studying self-image related cartoons reveals a good deal about how self-monitoring affects interpersonal communication in everyday life, but it also gives a good idea of how this phenomenon is reflected through the media and transformed into a social fact. Above all, class and self-image related cartoons are good examples of how "meta-information"--that is to say, information on how people treat the information they receive from one another--is re-inserted into social interaction. The moral and imperative tone of the satirical text "A Better Way," also published in World's Fair Puck, is a good illustration of the ways through which a reflexive medium can 2 be used to control reflexivity at an interpersonal level.

... Now at the Fair every visitor in a crowd rather fancies that people look upon him with great respect, regarding him as a person of note, a cosmopolitan, a personage, indeed, and very possibly, a prince.... The better way is for all to regard others as being from all appearances men of great note or ladies of high degree. In this way we shall not only please the imagination with fine company, but we may ourselves, in the general good and charitable feeling, obtain a modicum of simulated respect. (Williston Fish, World's Fair Puck [1893], no. 6, p. 65)

At the interpersonal level of reflexivity, this text brings to light people's self-monitoring of their action in face-to-face interaction. At the institutional level of reflexivity, a popular medium--the humour magazine--is used to reflect this inter-subjective reality and to advocate a better way to handle the situation. At a third level--the one regarding the information which is sent back to social life--the readers are sarcastically warned that the approach suggested by the joke in the text will not give them full satisfaction since there is no way to escape the perspective of their self-centred behaviour.

It is important to stress the low proportion of class-related cartoons which are also about the transmission of knowledge--28.6% compared to 48.6% within all cartoons. "Cultural capital," in Bourdieu's (1979) terms, did not seem to be a key issue in relation to class distinction. While workers' representations are confined to the work others expect them to do, images of middle-class people are limited to the way that they constantly control their appearances. There was no need for knowledge to intervene as a class marker. Actually, this might have been too humiliating for the new bourgeoisie as they did not have much knowledge themselves. However, as will be demonstrated in the next section, knowledge was widely used as a marker to distinguish between rural people (assumed to be ignorant) and the urban population (assumed to be cultivated and literate).

A meeting between states

Chicago was not the only American city interested in hosting the Columbian exposition. It was selected after a lengthy and expensive lobbying campaign in competition with New York, St. Louis, and Washington. Because Chicago had the advantage of being both a hub for the rural hinterlands and a centre of industrial expansion, it sold itself as an urban symbol of nationalism which still valued rural virtues (Harris, 1990, p. 115). However, it was assumed that most of the visitors would be from the United States and the Mid-West capital had to count on the participation of its bitter competitors. Local legislative support was organized and world's fair boards were created in most states and territories. These were encouraged to raise the funds for the distribution of information to potential private exhibitors, to provide state-sponsored exhibits, to build structures at Jackson Park for state residents, and to publicize the fair in local papers. As a result, exhibits from state and local fair organizations represented more than half of those at Jackson Park and, most importantly, they succeeded in stimulating attendance (Cassell & Cassell, 1983, p. 21). The majority of the visitors were Americans, and the Columbian Exposition became the largest meeting that had ever taken place between people from all states and territories. The possibility of drawing together masses of people from different states was one of the most highly praised characteristic of American world's fairs. The fact that "citizens of different States, with their families, were brought into close and intimate relation" was claimed by Andrew Carnegie as one of the most important contributions of international expositions to the building of a broad national American identity (Carnegie, 1894, p. 421). In line with the thought of Harold Innis (1968), the space-binding characteristics of world's fairs allowed a sense of closeness and intimacy within an extensive geographical territory:

In a federation so extensive as ours this drawing together of the people of the States is a work of great difficulty, and yet it is of infinite importance, for the masses of the people should not grow up without having in their midst living links who have met their fellow-citizens from other States and found them much like themselves, and in harmony upon one point at least,--their intense Americanism. Every plan should therefore be encouraged which draws the people of the different States together, and an exhibition like that just held at Chicago is by far the most efficacious of all modes. (Carnegie, 1894, p. 422)

The study of world's fair cartoons shows us the extent to which this meeting between states was not only the product of the world's fair advocates' imagination but also the degree to which it constituted a significant experience for the population. Of the cartoons 11.6% depict people from different states interacting together (see Table 1). Among these, the proportion related to knowledge (38.7%) or exhibition techniques (14.5%) is rather low compared to the percentages given for all the cartoons (48.6% and 35.1% respectively). This reveals that state-related cartoons had little to do with the cognitive components of the state exhibits or of the state buildings. These cartoons had a meaning of their own, independent of the relationship established between the exposition and its visitors; they were an occasion for the people to validate rather than overcome their prejudices about their compatriots.

Moreover, the proportions of state-related cartoons involving children (4%), foreigners (11.2%), Americans of non-British origin (6.4%24), women (25.8%), or workers (1.6%) are also quite low compared to the general percentages (9.2%, 18.6%, 9.0%, 34.7%, and 7.5% respectively within all cartoons). The meeting between states, as represented in the cartoons, was, above all, a meeting between American, white, middle-class men. Male encounters were the ones which counted most in the building of a national citizenry. The few women appearing in this type of joke are of strong character. Whether politically active, highly educated, or wealthy, they stand in contrast to the harebrained and romantic females depicted in other cartoons. Their behaviour is one of power and not of traditional feminine amiability. While this reflects women's participation in most of the state boards and their encouragement of local support, it also reveals the degree to which the meeting between states was more an occasion for rivalry than for conviviality. For instance, the cartoon entitled "A Parallel Case" shows a woman from Chicago, Miss La Salle, having a barbed discussion with a Miss Tremont from Boston. The former asks the latter not to believe all she reads and hears about Chicago divorces. To Miss Tremont's reply "We're not so silly," Miss La Salle adds "To be sure. I suppose you don't take any more stock in it than we do in Bostonians' professions about being so cultured" (see Figure 5). Women's talk in state-identity cartoons replicates men's discourse involving the same kind of jokes. The stereotypes to which they refer are exactly the same: Bostonians are represented as intellectually pretentious, Philadelphians as indolent, New Yorkers as pompous, and Kansans as country bumpkins. Nevertheless, as can be seen in the cartoon described above, the magazine could sometimes refer to these stereotypes at a second level of humour: it is the stereotypes per se, rather than their referent, which sometimes served as targets.

Another characteristic of the meeting between states, as caricatured in the cartoons, is the presence of rural people at the world's fair. These are personified in 5.8% of all cartoons. In this category the typical joke plays on the substantial difference between county fairs and world's fairs. For instance, the cartoon entitled "Important Features Lacking" depicts a man from the country who says to a guard that the fair is "Purty good, fur's it goes,--but they hain't no trottin track, an' I did n't see none o' them fellers that asks ye to bet which one o' the three cups the little wooden ball is under" (see Figure 6). As in other state-identity cartoons, most characters from the country are white males who are not portrayed in an ethnic manner.25 But unlike state-related cartoons, the proportion of jokes linked to knowledge is considerably higher (58.06%, compared to 48.6% within all cartoons). While the educational features of the fair have very little importance in state-related cartoons, they play a central role in rural representations. People from the country are generally depicted as ignorant and uneducated and the crude reflections of a naïve farmer contemplating an exhibit was a favourite object of laughter. For instance, in the cartoon "A Glance at his Enemy," a Kansas farmer asks an exhibitor of the Government Meteorological Building, "with a tinge of savagery in his voice": "Say, Mister man, show me the machine that makes our cyclones" (World's Fair Puck [1893], no. 12, p. 134). Similarly, in the cartoon "A Natural Mistake," a man called Mr. Rahway Meadow looks at a skeleton of a whale in the Fisheries Building and says "Wa-al I'll be consarned! I wonder where the skeleton of that moskito come from?" (World's Fair Puck [1893], no. 18, p. 207). Having a universal exposition in the hub of the Mid-West made it possible for the rural population to take part in one of the most important exercises in popular education. Yet no one wanted to be taken for the country cousin, the symbol of ignorance and backwardness. One could be as lethargic as a Philadelphian, as bookish as a Bostonian, or as ambitious as a New Yorker, but to be badly educated in a site for the celebration of knowledge was a real disgrace. Although the caricatured image of the hayseed may have been just a symbol of what the average visitor feared to resemble in front of others, it nonetheless made the meeting between states an aspiration rather than a reality. The only meeting possible was an elitist urban "get-together" which condemned to the status of on-lookers people who did not have the proper manners or the proper level of knowledge.

24.5P 23P 5 Source: World's Fair Puck (1893), no. 19 (cover page).

24.5P 20.5P 6 Source: World's Fair Puck (1893), no. 4, p. 39.

A meeting between sexes

Another important feature of the World's Columbian Exposition was the Woman's Building. One of the numerous conditions attached to the federal law which recognized Chicago as the fair's site was the creation of a Lady Board of Managers. Its role was to enhance and to supervise women's contributions to the fair. Its members were appointed by the national commission and every state had at least two representatives. Reciprocally, most state boards included the state representatives to the Lady Board of Managers. The task of the state representatives was to collect statistics on women's organizations and women's labour and to solicit exhibits from various women's clubs and women's literary societies (for more details, see Cassell & Cassell, 1983). As a result, the contribution of women to the fair's organization and their appreciable presence as visitors had a particular and unprecedented significance. People were encouraged to look at gender in a different way, and by doing so, they were invited to a meeting of a different kind: a meeting between sexes.

Women's special participation in the World's Columbian Exposition is reflected in cartoons about the fair. Almost thirty-five percent (34.71%) of the jokes are about women or have a woman as a main character. Although this number is below 50%, the proportion of cartoons involving women in a very specific way was quite high if one considers the representation they usually had in the press. Be that as it may, it is not in the spirit desired by the Lady Board of Managers that the cartoons made light of the encounter with women. As discussed earlier, the few state-identity cartoons in which women figure show them interacting in the same way as men. A number of other jokes portray men as making fun of the Woman's Building, but the majority of stories rely on traditional female attributes. Thus, while a small proportion of cartoons relate to political issues such as class (14.3%), money (23.5%), or state-identity (25.8%) are also about women, a high proportion of cartoons relate to personal matters such as morals (45%), romance (87.8%), or self-image (43.1%) are strongly associated with "the second sex."

Typical jokes about morals and women are the ones in which men share thoughts on the belly dancers in the Midway Plaisance. For instance, in the story entitled "The Natural Question," a man is telling another that some dancing girls are good, some are bad, and some indifferent; the second man asks avidly "Where are the bad ones?" (World's Fair Puck [1893], no. 17, p. 201). Another series of jokes within the same category are the ones in which a couple of women share their discomfort about the nude in art. In both cases, the characters discuss women as objects of representation. Except for one cartoon in which some elderly ladies from the Temperance movement are introduced to a state-building director as "prominent Kansas politicians," women's participation as subjects (that is to say as producers, exhibitors, lobbyists, or merely competent visitors) are never the topic of conversations.

While the stereotypical association between women and romance is highly predictable, the relationship between women and self-image is much more subtle. This latter includes three general types of jokes: one in which men comment on the appearance of their female companions, one in which women worry about their own image, and one in which men are preoccupied by the impression that they give to women. A good example of the first type of joke is a cartoon called "Another Matter." In response to someone who asked if he came to enjoy the fair, a man answers "No, to show my wife around" (World's Fair Puck [1893], no. 10, p. 118). In a two-page cartoon entitled "A Trying Test," a bride asks her spouse on Cairo Street, "And are you sure you still love me, Algernon, darling?"; the spouse answers "Sure? Why, Birdie, sweet, you did n't even look ridiculous to me when you were on that camel!" (World's Fair Puck [1893], no. 22, pp. 258-259). In these self-image cartoons, once again, women are above all an object of exhibition and, by no means, subjects of knowledge.

In the second kind of jokes, women are their own exhibitor; what is exhibited is just an image of themselves as subjects. For instance, in the cartoon entitled "She Enjoyed the Fair," a woman, "Miss Autograph," is asked by "Mr. Oldbeau" if she has been having a good time at the fair. She answers: "Lovely! I went around the buildings and signed my name in twenty-three registers" (World's Fair Puck [1893], no. 11, p. 130). Another cartoon called "The Force of Habit" shows a gateman who asks a woman to see the photograph on her pass and the woman answers: "Oh certainly; but, indeed, it doesn't do me justice. I only had one sitting and it has n't my expression at all" (see Figure 7). In both cases, a woman interacts with a man and displays an empty-headed, purely cosmetic response to the exposition that focuses on the medium rather than the content.

23P 14.5P 7 Source: World's Fair Puck (1893), no. 7, p. 75.

In the third type of jokes, women express a greater curiosity in knowledge but their interest is still only that of an image-consumer. The best example of this type of joke is a two-page cartoon called "How He Triumphed at Last"; it shows a man whose company was not appreciated by the young ladies but who became very popular when describing the world's fair upon his return from a trip to Chicago (World's Fair Puck [1893], no. 19, pp. 222-223). Here women are shown as having some interest in the content of the fair, but numerous other jokes about the prestige attributed to fair-goers give the impression that women are more attracted by appearances than by anything else.

Many organizational efforts were made to stimulate and enhance women's participation in the fair, but the idea that women in public places could only be displayed as objects of desire was deeply embedded in people's social habits. Despite the fact that the exposition was a space for the diffusion of knowledge--unlike most other public places--and that the Woman's Building exhibited women's contributions to society, women's status received little recognition as one of an object of knowledge. Thinking about them as a subject was therefore twice as difficult. The possibility that women could play a role in public education or might even learn something at the fair was a subject of derision. In this context, it might have been easy for men to ridicule the aspirations of their mate. The meeting between sexes never really materialized; all the fair could really offer was casual encounters between men and women whose sexual roles were too rigid to transform their tête-à-tête into a real discovery between members of gender categories.


As Bennett observed, the exposition--at the birth of the modern museum--was the site of a dual movement of assembling and differentiating two kinds of population, basically the working and the middle class. While Bennett's work is rather narrowly based on the plans of world's fair organizers and advocates, our study demonstrates that this was also true in the public mind of the 1893 Columbian World Exposition. Moreover, our research indicates that the dual process of communality and distinction was premised on other social categories related to ethnicity, state locality, and gender. Moreover, beyond what Bourdieu & Darbel (1969) maintain, we saw that the differentiating function of the fair was not only related to the level of complexity of the codes used for the diffusion of knowledge. The exhibitionary complex--including world's fairs and museums--became a scene of division and compartmentalization through the linkage between the institutional reflexivity of the medium exposition, as a site of self-control and self-surveillance for the crowd, and the individual level of reflexivity, inherent in the way visitors negotiate their self-identity in face-to-face interactions.

2 Because expositions were constituted both as a learning context and as a space of self-surveillance, visitors were put in a situation of high vulnerability: they were continuously confronted with novel situations in which other people scrutinize their activities. This phenomenon was exacerbated by the fact that world's fair exhibits included many people traditionally excluded from the bourgeois public sphere because of their nationality, race, colour, or gender. Anxious about being associated with outcasts, the white, middle-class visitors processed the information they received from these exhibits so that they could set themselves apart. One way of doing this was to create categories of social interaction and to reduce them to stereotypes. Humour magazines were the perfect instrument for this purpose as they allowed the dominant collective representations to take shape and to be re-inserted into the public sphere. This was not only true for the cartoons about the 1893 Columbian World Exposition; it was also the case for the jokes about the 1851 London Great Exhibition, published in the more liberal Punch magazine, and the ones related to the 1867 Paris Universal Exposition, published in the conservative Petit Journal pour Rire. This third level of reflexivity, coupled with the institutional reflexivity of the medium exposition and the individual reflexivity of visitors' interaction, provided the comics' readers with important information about the behaviour to avoid and the ones to cultivate in order to be well thought of by all.

In terms of our analysis, the level of reflexivity found in cartoons provides a good picture of how the exhibitionary complex--despite the organizers' pretensions to make it accessible and inclusive--became a site where the politics of distinction was particularly acute. It also provides us with good clues about why the museum of today is largely a middle-class institution. Perhaps more revealing than current audience studies, historical research on the subtle mechanisms of exclusion sheds light on the present lack of interest by the popular classes in museum visits. Exposition cartoons no longer exist, and most people do not even know that they ever existed. But for those who may identify with any of the categories of individuals that were represented, the feeling that the slightest sign of ignorance or awkwardness might result in derision has deep historical roots.


Manon Niquette gratefully acknowledges the support of a postdoctoral grant (756-94-0332) from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) for the preparation of this manuscript. She also wishes to express her gratitude to the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University for its hospitality.
The bibliographical research of Samson, Schiele, & DiCampo (1989) has allowed us to have access to an impressive variety of museum studies, many of which deal with issues of sociability. A more detailed review of these studies can be found in Niquette (1994a).
While male researchers have conducted the majority of museum studies, most of the works examining interaction between visitors have been undertaken by women or with the collaboration of women. This can likely be attributed not only to women's traditional interest in interpersonal communication and parental relationships, but also to their desire to explore new methodological approaches.
Fazzini (1972), for instance, established that looking at visitors who are manipulating an interactive display affects their performance.
The naturalistic approach was taken up by others, particularly by a group of doctoral students at the University of California in Berkeley working under the direction of Watson M. Laesch. Taken together, their dissertations represent the most important collection of works on sociability in museums: Gottfried's (1979) work on learning behaviour in school groups; Rosenfeld's (1980) study of context-oriented visits, and the research of Diamond (1980) and Taylor (1986) on family groups.
Among cognitive studies which take into account the interaction between visitors are: (1) Alt's (1982) research on the optimal combination of characteristics an exhibit must have; (2) Dierking's (1987) experimentalist study on how attention behaviour varies in relation to variables such as the types of exhibits, the kinds of families, or dyads; and (3) Birney's (1986) research on how relations with peers or with authorities affect the structural organization of students' cognition.
A number of interpretive studies have taken into account interaction between visitors. These include McManus' (1991) transactionist perspective based on the idea that the message is not an object of transaction but the transaction itself, Silverman's (1990) typology of interpretive acts inspired by Searle's speech acts, and Niquette's (1994b) semio-cognitive model based on an encounter between Piaget's constructivism and Peirce's 10 classes of signs.
As opposed to the message, the text has an autonomous existence and is capable of producing a variety of meanings. Therefore, the interpretation of the text depends not only on its internal organization but on how this structure interacts with the multiple meaning systems of the readers.
For instance, in her typology of visitor dyads, Silverman (1990) includes a category called "the recognizers." This category refers to the visitors who frequently attempt to establish the identity of the objects they look at without referring to any personal experience or knowledge. According to the author, most of these recognizers have known one another for less than five years. This means that seeing objects which are familiar to them comforts their own sense of identity. Niquette (1994b) also gives as an example the case of visitors, who, while manipulating an interactive display, choose questions they can answer easily rather than questions which could teach them something new. According to the author, they did this in order to show off their erudition to their peers.
Former department head at the Royal Ontario Museum and McLuhan disciple Harley W. Parker (1963) affirms that the exposition's communication system should be based on a logic which corresponds to the modern cognitive processes. This new logic must have the shape of a synthetic juxtaposition and must promote a multidimensional experience which disorients the visitor's mind.
Hensel (1982) also stresses that the less pedagogical is the attitude of a member in a family, the greater is the rate of participation of the entire family. Her evaluation of family workshops contrasts notably with that of
Gennaro & Heller (1983) who focused essentially on participants' perception and the acquisition of fragmented knowledge. Hensel's object of investigation is different: instead of evaluating the participants' erudition or satisfaction, she assesses the quality of their relation within a context of public information. Quoted from the cartoon "The Pound and the Shilling" published in the British humour magazine Punch. The cartoon shows an upper-middle-class family meeting a working-class family on the shilling day at the London Great Exhibition of 1851.
According to Foucault (1975), the Panopticon, a system of surveillance promoted by Jeremy Bentham towards the end of the eighteenth century, epitomizes the transformation of disciplinary power in Western societies. Designed as a circular building with a central watch-tower, this new mode of control made it impossible for prisoners to know if they were being observed or not. It consequently brought the inmates to interiorize the possibility of being constantly under surveillance and to monitor their own behaviour.
According to Riesman, Glazer, & Denney (1969), the inner-directed individuals in society pursue goals which have been implanted early in life and which are felt as being part of themselves whereas other-directed people behave in accordance with the signals they receive from their contemporaries, directly through friends or indirectly through the mass-media.
The magazine Puck developed from a German comic which Joseph Keller and A. Schwarzmann had begun publishing in New York in September 1876. The first issue of the English-language version of Puck appeared in March 1877; it ceased publication in September 1918. During the 1880s and 1890s the paper was an institution sui generis. It had significant influence on American politics and social life (Mott, 1957). Its political power was prominent to the point that it had its own building at the Chicago world's fair and published the World's Fair Puck there.
See World's Fair Puck (1893), no. 2, p. 15: "The self-made man is a good deal like the home-made shirt: --useful enough, may be, but not ornamental."
We borrowed this idea from Violette Morin (1970) who, from a semio-linguistic perspective, explains that humour works as a system of incompatibilities whose relations reach the very limits of their narrative unity without overlapping them.
To have an idea of how these exhibits were described to the public, see Johnson (1898), chap. 15.
See Rydell (1984), pp. 52-55 on this subject.
The two jokes putting a child in front of a Dahoman make an allusion to cannibalism.
We have maintained the original spelling of contractions, separating the two contracted words rather than conjoining them.
This tendency to characterize those of Irish origin as having simian qualities was common in American humour of the nineteenth century (Ignatiev, 1995).
Because the distances between exhibits were so great, rickshaw-type devices were used to transport visitors around the exposition site.
Irish and Jewish New Yorkers are slightly more represented in state-identity cartoons than the other categories of characters.
The proportion of women (22.6%) or Americans of non-British origin (3.2%) is particularly low compared to the general percentages.


Allaire, A. (1990). Profil des visiteurs du Musée de la civilisation: quatre mois après l'ouverture. Coll. "Cahiers de recherche", 1. Québec: Musée de la civilisation.

Alt, M. B. (1982). A cognitive approach to understanding the behaviour of museum visitors. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of London, London.

Bateson, G., Jackson, D., Haley, J., & Weakland, J. (1956). Toward a theory of schizophrenia. Behavioural Science, 1, 251-264.

Benedict, B. (1994). Rituals of representation: Ethnic stereotypes and colonized peoples at world's fairs. In R. W. Rydell & N. E. Gwinn (Eds.), Fair representations: World's fairs and the modern world (pp. 28-61). Amsterdam: VU University Press.

Bennett, T. (1988). The exhibitionary complex. New Formations, 4, 73-102.

Birney, B. A. (1986). A comparative study of children's perceptions and knowledge of wildlife and conservation as they relate to field trip experiences at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History and the Los Angeles Zoo. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles.

Bourdieu, P., & Darbel, A. (1969). L'amour de l'art. Paris: Éditions de Minuit.

Bourdieu, P. (1979). La distinction, critique sociale du jugement. Paris: Éditions de Minuit.

Carnegie, A. (1894). Value of the world's fair to the American people. The Engineering Magazine Co.: The World's Fair in Retrospect, 6 (4), 417-422.

Cassell, F. A., & Cassell, M. E. (1983). The White City in peril: Leadership and the World's Columbian Exposition. Chicago History, 12(3), 10-27.

Cone, C. A., & Kendall, K. (1978). Space, time and family interaction: Visitor behavior at the Science Museum of Minnesota. Curator, 21(3), 245-258.

Cooperrider, D. (1977). Preliminary analysis of the 1977 visitor survey. Brookfield, IL: Brookfield Zoo.

Davallon, J. (1992, December). Le musée est-il vraiment un média? Publics & Musées, 2, 99-123.

Diamond, J. (1980). The ethology of teaching: A perspective from the observations of families in science centers. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.

Dierking, L. D. (1987). Parent-child interactions in a free choice learning setting: An examination of attention-directing behaviors. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Florida, Gainesville.

Draper, L. (1984). Friendship and the museum experience: The interrelationship of social ties and learning. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.

Eidelman, J. (1992, December). Qui fréquente les musées à Paris? Une sociographie des publics des musées de France. Publics & Musées, 2, 19-45.

Esherick, Homsey, Dodge, & Davis. (1976). Visitor survey: A plan for the San Francisco Zoological Gardens. San Francisco: San Francisco Zoological Gardens.

Fazzini, D. (1972). The museum as a learning environment: A self-motivating, recycling, learning system for the museum visitor. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, Milwaukee.

Foucault, M. (1975). Surveiller et punir: naissance de la prison. Paris: Gallimard.

Gennaro, E., & Heller, P. (1983). Parent and child learning: A model for programs at informal science centers. Museum Education Roundtable: Roundtable Reports, 8(2), 4-5.

Giddens, A. (1984). The constitution of society: Outline of the theory of structuration. Cambridge (Cambridgeshire): Polity Press.

Giddens, A. (1992a). Une théorie critique de la modernité avancée. In M. Audet & H. Bouchikhi (Eds.), Structuration du social et modernité avancée: autour des travaux d'Anthony Giddens (pp. 29-53). Sainte-Foy, QC: Les Presses de l'Université Laval.

Giddens, A. (1992b). Identité de soi, transformation de l'intimité et démocratisation de la vie. In M. Audet & H. Bouchikhi (Eds.), Structuration du social et modernité avancée: autour des travaux d'Anthony Giddens (pp. 455-476). Sainte-Foy, QC: Les Presses de l'Université Laval.

Goffman, E. (1971). Relations in public. New York: Harper Colophon Books.

Goshorn, A. T. (1894). Effects of the Centennial Exhibition. The Engineering Magazine Co.: The World's Fair in Retrospect, 6 (4), 423-429. 3

Gottfried, J. L. (1979). A naturalistic study of children's behavior in a free-choice learning environment. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.

Greenhalgh, P. (1988). Ephemeral vistas: The expositions universelles, great exhibitions and world's fairs, 1851-1939. New York: Manchester University Press.

Harris, Neil. (1990). Cultural excursions: Marketing appetites and cultural taste in modern America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Harrison, R. P. (1981). The cartoon: Communication to the quick. Beverly Hills & London: Sage Publications.

Hensel, K. A. (1982). A new look at our largest audience: Ethnographic analysis of the family unit. In Proceedings of the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (pp. 261-267). Wheeling, WV: The American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums.

Hill, C. A. (1971). Analysis of the zoo behavior. International Zoo Yearbook, 11, 158-164.

Hodges, S. (1978). An ecological approach to the study of zoo visitor behavior: Implications for environmental management and design. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg.

Ignatiev, N. (1995). How the Irish became white. New York: Routledge.

Innis, H. (1968). The bias of communication. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Originally published in 1951

Johnson, R. (1898). A history of the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893 (Vol. 4). New York: D. Appleton and Company.

Kuehl, P. (1976). An analysis of visitor socioeconomic, behavioral, and attitudinal characteristics at the National Zoological Park. Washington, DC: National Zoological Park.

Kwong, D. (1976). Lion-tiger observation. Washington, DC: National Zoological Park.

Laetsch, W., Diamond, J., Gottfried, J. L., & Rosenfeld, S. B. (1980). Children and family groups in science centers. Science and Children, 17(6), 14-17.

Lakota, R. A., & Kantner, J. A. (1976). The National Museum of Natural History as a behavioral environment, part II: Summary and recommendations, final report. Washington, DC: Office of Museum Programs, Smithsonian Institution.

LeResche, L. (1974). What people do at the zoo: An ethological study of zoo visitor behavior--A report to the Baltimore Zoological Society. Baltimore: [Baltimore Zoological Society].

McLuhan, M. (1965). Understanding media: The extensions of man. New York: McGraw-Hill.

McManus, P. (1991). Making sense of exhibits. In G. Kavanagh (Ed.), Museum languages: Objects and texts (pp. 35-46). Leicester: Leicester University Press.

Melton, A. W. (1935). Problems of installation in museums of art. New Series, 14. Washington, DC: The American Association of Museums.

Morin, V. (1970). Le dessin humoristique. Communications, 151, 110-131.

Mott, F. L. (1957). A history of American magazines: Vol. 3. 1865-1885. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Originally published in 1938

Niquette, M. (1994a). Pour une analyse de la réception et du partage social des connaissances. Publics & Musées, 5, 79-94.

Niquette, M. (1994b). La sociabilité au musée: un point d'ancrage pour l'évaluation des stratégies communicationnelle de la diffusion publique des sciences. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Université du Québec à Montréal, Montreal.

Page, W. H. (1904). The people as an exhibit. The world's work (pp. 5110-5113). New York: Doubleday Page & Company.

Parker, H. W. (1963). The museum as a communication system. Curator, 6(4), 350-360.

Peabody, S. H. (1898). The educational and moral value of the exposition. In Rossiter Johnson (Ed.), A history of the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893 (Vol. 4, pp. 488-497). New York: D. Appleton and Company.

Perkins, D. (1976). A definition of caricature and caricature and recognition. Studies in Visual Communication, 2(1), 1-23.

Petit Journal pour Rire. (1867). Nos. 588-598. Paris: Aux bureaux du journal amusant des modes parisiennes et de la toilette de Paris.

Punch or the London Charivari. (1851). Punch's almanack for 1851. London.

Riesman, D., with Glazer, N., & Denney, R. (1969). The lonely crowd. New Haven: Yale University Press. Originally published in 1950

Rosenfeld, S. B. (1980). Informal education in zoos: Naturalistic studies of family groups. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.

Rydell, Robert W. (1984). All the world's a fair: Visions of empire at American international expositions, 1876-1916. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Samson, D., & Schiele, B., with the collaboration of DiCampo, P. (1989). L'évaluation muséale, publics et expositions: Bibliographie raisonnée. Paris: Expo Média.

Savory, J., & Marks, P. (1985). The smiling muse: Victoriana in the comic press. Philadelphia: The Art Alliance Press.

Schiele, B., Tarpin, C., & Daignault, L. (1991). Le jeu et ses images, une étude qualitative de l'exposition Jeux. Coll. "Cahiers de recherche". Québec: Musée de la civilisation.

Sennett, R. (1974). The fall of public man. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Silverman, L. H. (1990). Of us and other "things": The content and functions of talk by adult visitor pairs in an art and a history museum. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Stymeist, D. H. (1975). Ethnics and Indians: Social relations in a Northwestern Ontario town. Toronto: Peter Martin Associates Limited.

Suchman, L. A. (1987). Plans and situated actions: The problem of human /machine communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Susman, W. (1983). Commentary: Ritual fairs. Chicago History, 12 (3), 4-9.

Taylor, S. M. (1986). Understanding processes of informal education: A naturalistic study of visitors to a public aquarium. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.

Vincent, David. (1989). Literacy and popular culture, England 1750-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wing, P. (1982). Visitor survey. Report for California Academy of Sciences.

Wolf, R. L., & Tymitz, B. L. (1978). Preliminary guide for conducting naturalistic evaluation in studying museum environments. Washington, DC: Office of Museum Programs, Smithsonian Institution.

World's Fair Puck. (1893). Nos. 1-26. Chicago: Puck Building, Jackson Park.

  •  Announcements
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Current Issue
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Thesis Abstracts
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo

We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.