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The Construction of National and Regional Identities at Exhibitions and World Fairs


Admission requirements

Not applicable.


The construction of national identities has generally been studied in national case studies, in which national actors invent national symbols for a domestic audience. However, it is also clear that the nation-building process showed many similarities in various parts of Europe and even around the globe. In order to avoid this methodological nationalism, in this course we will study the construction of national identities by focusing on world fairs and international expositions. Here every nation had its own pavilion, with its supposedly characteristic architecture, decoration, exhibits, products, food and shows. World fairs therefore were a kind of transnational arena where new formulas were tested, copied and adapted. The representation of the nation should be recognizable and attractive to foreign visitors and stimulate a sense of belonging among the nation’s citizens. Although every nation tried to be unique, in fact they all pursued the same objective: to present their national identities in the most favorable way at this international stage.
A fascinating aspect of these world fairs is the interaction between the representations of the colonies and those of the Western nations. Villages with native artisans, dancers and musicians were first used to represent the colonies and because of their great success were also adopted to represent the traditional ways of life of the more rural areas in Europe. Thus the village suisse of 1900 was not very different from the Javanese village that was shown in 1889. Nonetheless, colonial pavilions have been studied in the context of imperialism, racial hierarchies and orientalism, while most of them clearly presented a non-Western nation with a thriving folkore and clearly distinguishable Volksgeist. European pavilions on the other hand also tried to show the most peculiar aspects of their own traditional folkways, while they also betrayed a great preoccupation with racial issues, such as degeneration, the racial composition of the population, primitive atavisms et cetera. By studying the interaction between the various types of pavilions we could also connect both historiographical traditions.
Although the focus in this course will be on world fairs and exhibitions between 1851 and 1945, human zoos, travelling shows such as Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, and more recent international exhibitions can also be the topic of research. During the first half of the course we will study some recent debates, while during the second half of the course, the students will present the results of their own investigations.

To start the course students will have to hand in a take-home exam (questions can be found on the blackboard site of the course, hand in during first class) on the following book:

  • Alexander Geppert, Fleeting Cities: Imperial Expositions in Fin-de-Siècle Europe (Basingstoke: Palgrave 2013).

Course objectives

General learning objectives
The student has acquired:

    1. The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;
    1. The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;
    1. The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
    1. The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
    1. The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;
    1. The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;
    1. The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;
    1. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;
    1. (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

    1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subspecialisations as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following:
    • in the specialisation Political Culture and National Identities: political practices, symbols and perceptions, nationalism, and national identities in a cultural and societal context from 1800;
    1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation or subspecialisation in question, with a particular focus on the following:
    • in the specialisation Political Culture and National Identities: international comparison and transfer; the analysis of the specific perspectives of secondary studies; a cultural-historical approach of politics and a political-historical approach of culture.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar
The student:

    1. Basic knowledge and understanding of the process of national identity construction
    1. Basic knowledge and understanding of the history of world fairs and their role in 19th and early 20 th century culture and society
    1. In depth knowledge of one particular case study
    1. (ResMA only:) – The ability to use a more complex corpus of sources in comparison to regular MA students; and/or the ability to set up and carry out original research which raises new questions, pioneers new approaches and/or and points to new directions for future research.


See Timetable and deadlines History

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load (10 × 28) = 280 hours

  • Hours spent on attending lectures and seminars: 26

  • Time for studying the compulsory literature and preparing classes: 74 hours

  • Time to write a paper (including reading / research): 180 hours

Assessment method


  • Written paper (ca. 7500 words, based on research in primary sources, including footnotes and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-8, 12-13 and 15 (ResMA: 1-9, 12-13 and 15-16)

  • Entry test
    Measured learning objectives: 14

  • Oral presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 3-7, 15 (ResMA: 3-7, 15-16)

  • Participation and web-postings
    Measured learning objectives: 1-2, 8, 11-14

Written paper: 70 %
Entry test: 10 %
Oral presentation: 10 %
Participation and web-postings: 10 %

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.

Written papers should be handed in within the given deadline

Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.


Blackboard will be used for communication, discussions (web-postings) and feed-back

Reading list

  • Alexander Geppert, Fleeting Cities: Imperial Expositions in Fin-de-Siècle Europe (Basingstoke: Palgrave 2013). Please purchase paperback version beforehand (for entry test).

  • additional articles and chapters will be announced in class and on blackboard


Via uSis

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


dhr. Dr. H.J. Storm