J. E. Steenshorne
University of California-Irvine
Dept. of History (Phd. candidate)

"Empire and Exhibitions: the New York and Dublin International Expositions of 1853-54"

The 1851 London Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations inspired a bevy of imitations in Europe and North America. The Crystal Palace has long been seen as an expression of imperial might by Great Britain, in the form of goods and technology, with the superior fruits of English ingenuity and artistry on display for future customers, and the lesser nations of the world offering tribute in the form of their exhibits. The subsequent exhibitions were affected as well by the force of imperial aspiration. This paper will deal with the New York Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations in 1853-54 and the Dublin Great Industrial Exhibition of 1853, particularly the competition between the current and former colony, and their relationship with the parent nation. New York's Exhibition, backed not by government but by businessmen, allowed the City to display its position as the "Great Emporium of the Nation," the seat of finance of the Western Hemisphere, and its ambition to take its place amongst the great cities of Europe. The very building is illustrative of these goals, and the relationship with England; the planning committee deliberately demanded a building of the glass and iron construction of the original Crystal Palace, yet rejected the plan submitted by Paxton for one by the Dane Carstensen. Planned at the same time, and closely watched by the New Yorkers for which exhibit would open first, the Dublin Exhibition was intended to bolster Ireland's economy after the ravages of the famine, introduce technology to the "backward" natives, and foster national pride in the form of the exhibition of Celtic artefacts, all while maintaining a delicate balance between subservient loyalty and Fenian leanings. Both Exhibitions, by mirroring the Great Exhibition, even if in a miniaturized way, allowed the host cities/nations to display not only their products and technology, but also to project an image of a modernity, however nascent.