Visualizing Culture in Space: Production, Perception, and Experience of the Spatial Narrative of the Saint Louis 1904 World’s Fair

Lucas Avelar, Clemson University

The intersections between time and space have long been the object of historical studies. Throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, world’s fairs became diplomatic encounters between nation-states that negotiated their power, influence, and economic prestige in stages of planned urban utopia. The Saint Louis 1904 World’s Fair showcased a spatial narrative strongly dependent on the participation of foreign nations and the presence of the so-called “less civilized” cultural groups on the grounds. Underlying principles of modernity, civilized progress, and American exceptionalism characterized the arrangement of the fair grounds. Further, those principles enabled a spatial narrative that informed the fair visitors’ experience of a digestible version of the modernizing world. The visitors’ well-being on those grounds, however, was inversely proportional to the objectification and visual separation of other cultures. This project utilizes digital methodologies for spatial analysis to investigate the production, perception, and experience of the spatial narrative and arrangement of the world’s fair in Saint Louis in 1904. It argues that the fair, as a utopian microcosmos of modernity and progress, provided visitors with a particular spatial experience of American culture in relation to “the other.” The data gathered for this project draw from both spatial data collected on the grounds of the fair and from multiple primary sources like the World’s Fair Authentic Guide. The vector data of footprints of each pavilion and exhibit buildings were acquired from previously georeferenced historic maps of the grounds. The data was then used in a Web Map application that now contains multiple levels of information, allowing for a complex visualization of the fair buildings, pathways, railway, entrances, access types, exhibits, and spatial segregation of culture. As the project demonstrates, digital methodologies can provide historians and social scientists with new insight on how people produce and experience space over time.

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 Presented in Session 162. Connecting Urban Dynamics: Owners, Tenants, Spatial Narratives, and Built Environment