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[Detail] Bird's eye view of Anniston, Ala. 1888.

Historical Issue-Analysis and Decision-Making

In 1893, the world's fair was held in Chicago. It celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus's voyage of discovery and was thus called The World's Columbian Exposition. Amidst the Depression of 1893, the fair sought to provide a utopian view of the United States as the fruit of progress generated by uniting the forces of high culture and commerce. The Fair's chief architect, Daniel Burnham, expressed this utopian ideal in the neoclassical building facades, broad walkways, and lush gardens of that portion of the Fair situated along Chicago's waterfront, called the "White City."

Bird's eye view of the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893.

World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, Illinois, 1893.

While the Fair and White City made room for commerce and culture, this utopia did not include African Americans. Blacks were prohibited from exhibiting and systematically excluded from planning or working at the Fair. This fact caused Frederick Douglass, Commissioner of the Fair's Haitian pavilion, to state that at the Fair "the spirit of American caste made itself conspicuously felt against the educated American negro." (Douglass had been U.S. Minister to Haiti, and was invited by that nation to speak at the dedication of their pavilion.) American Blacks did attend the Fair, however, and among those attending were the composers Scott Joplin and Will Marion Cook, the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, the writer James Weldon Johnson, and Ida Wells, who co-wrote the pamphlet "The Reason Why The Colored American Is Not in the World's Columbian Exposition."

Panoramic maps of "White City" do not depict or even hint at the segregation and racism that was reaching its height at the turn of the nineteenth century. (Only three years after the Fair, in 1896, the Supreme Court upheld the principle of racial segregation in United States schools in the Plessy v. Ferguson case.) Had the mapmaker been aware, concerned, and free to do so, was there a way that he might have depicted the social problems of this otherwise utopian city?

  • Did American Blacks experience similar exclusion from the 1876 Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; the 1883 Southern Exposition in Louisville, Kentucky; the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition in Nashville, Tennessee; or the 1906 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, known as the St. Louis World's Fair? Can you tell from the maps of these fairs?
  • Was Jim Crow in force on the fairgrounds in South Weymouth, Massachusetts, in 1885, or in Morrisville, Vermont, in 1889? What sources, in addition to the panoramic maps, would you have to research to uncover your answer?
  • In what way do the panoramic maps depict the cities and towns of the United States as utopias?
  • What were the dictates of the mapmakers' craft or business that might have lead the mapmaker to depict a city in a certain light?