Ephemera and the 1900 World's Fair

Monday, February 11, 2019
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM (ET)
VCAM VCAM 201 Media Production/Object Study Classroom
Event Type
Distinguished Visitors-French

Distinguished Visitor Anne O’Neil-Henry, associate professor of French and Francophone Studies at Georgetown University

Visitors to the 1900 Exposition Universelle found Paris’s landscape transformed into a dazzling array of attractions: more elaborate than any of the previous four nineteenth-century world’s fairs held in France’s capital.  From the ornate Porte Monumentale that greeted them at the entrance to the modern trottoir roulant that transported them, France’s final Exposition Universelle surpassed its predecessors in its extravagant attempts to showcase the country’s monumental industrial, technological, architectural, and artistic achievements.  Concurrently, it offered up the capital city for consumption through multiple forms of diversion to visitors who increasingly expected to be entertained. Such excessiveness marked 1900 as both the culmination and decline of Paris’s Expositions Universelles. This paper studies examples of the countless pieces of memorabilia that were sold in 1900 to commemorate the Exposition and its theme – “le bilan du siècle,” effectively capturing views of the urban monuments to capitalize on the increasingly commercial nature of these international events. From paperweights to picture frames to postcards, the ephemera sold at the fair depicted its attractions and offered its patrons a souvenir. Seemingly trivial, these ephemeral knick-knacks nonetheless importantly reinforced the Exposition’s main goals: to assert France’s geo-political importance, to establish Paris as a modern cosmopolitan center, and to highlight France’s technological and industrial advancements.  These forgotten examples of fin-de-siècle commemorative culture thus performed the important work of narrating a modern France to the domestic and foreign visitors who purchased them. Viewed more broadly alongside other examples of exposition culture, notably popular theatrical works, these souvenirs also exemplify how, fueled by the desire to entertain and to offer the flashiest innovations, the “universal exposition” became unsustainable for Paris; 1900 being the last one of its type.

Anne O’Neil-Henry is an associate professor of French and Francophone Studies at Georgetown University.  She is the author of Mastering the Marketplace: Popular Literature in Nineteenth-Century France (University of Nebraska Press, 2017) and the co-editor of French Cultural Studies for the Twenty-First Century (University of Delaware Press, 2017).  She is currently at work on a book that looks at energy production, popular culture, and the nineteenth-century Parisian World’s Fairs – an article version of one of her book chapters on electricity and the 1900 Exposition Universelle is forthcoming from the journal Contemporary French Civilization. Finally, she has recently completed a collection of annotated and translated works of popular literature from the July Monarchy co-edited with Masha Belenky of George Washington University, which is forthcoming from the MLA Texts and Translations Series.

Tea at 4:15 p.m.

Sponsored by the Department of French & Francophone Studies in conjunction with the Distinguished Visitors Program 

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