Date of Completion
world's fair, international exposition, utopia, reform, women reformers, cities, nineteenth-century literature
Sharon M. Harris
Cathy J. Schlund-Vials
Field of Study
My dissertation traces the roots of Progressivism in urban literary texts and international expositions, often called world’s fairs, throughout the nineteenth century. These texts and fairs engaged in a project I call utopian world building: the construction of an alternate world in which a specific set of inequalities, often economic, racial, or gender-based, was purportedly remedied. Drawing on a wide range of novels, periodicals, and archival sources, I argue that the dialogue between world’s fairs and urban literature transformed common ideas about the future, allowing it to be imagined as an urban site being constructed in the (nineteenth-century) present. While other scholars have shown the influence of journalistic exposés and fatalistic depictions of the city on Progressive Era literature, I uncover a different vision. World’s fairs offered a utopian picture of the future which was then refracted through multiple ideologies; authors as diverse as mid-century journalist Henry Mayhew, realist William Dean Howells, activist Frederick Douglass, novelist Frances E.W. Harper, and women’s rights advocate Charlotte Perkins Gilman sketched conflicting blueprints of ideal worlds that were enabled by this shared concept of a built future. Bringing together scholarly fields usually kept separate—historical and cultural studies of expositions on the one hand, and literary analyses of post-Civil War fiction about the industrialized city, on the other—“Cities of the Future” reshapes our understanding of some of the most significant social and political developments of the twentieth century.
Henderson, Christina E., "Cities of the Future: Literary Utopias, World's Fairs, and the Making of American Progressivism" (2015). Doctoral Dissertations. 806.
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