The Micro-history of a world event: intention, perception and imagination at the Exposition universelle de 1867

Volker Barth


Universal exhibitions are almost exclusively described as representations of an outside reality. The authenticity of the exhibits and the relation between the display and the real thing are put into consideration to investigate the political aims and ambitions of the organizers. However, the records of the spectators show that these were more likely to evaluate the objects according to other criteria. Here exhibitions reveal themselves as events that were not judged in the first place for their capacity to represent but for their ability to create. Visitors used them to develop pleasing mental images according to their individual and hedonistic motivations. In this sense, the exhibitions did not so much hint back to the outside than rather hint forward to an evolving imaginary inside the viewer. Thus, the paper focuses on the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1867 to explore how and to what purpose the spectators dealt with what they saw. My aim is to analyse exhibitions as independent imaginary worlds, which serve as starting points for creative cultural actions that are very little concerned with the realness of the display.

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Copyright (c) 2015 Volker Barth

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