Philadelphia: Active Host for the International 1876 Centennial Exposition...What About Now?

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Philadelphia: Active Host for the International 1876 Centennial Exposition...What About Now?

2017-10-18 16:30


*This blog is the ninth in a series by Sarah Sharp, Global Educator for World Heritage Philadelphia

Part II: Imagining another world exposition in Philadelphia

Knowing that Philadelphia was on center stage in 1876 as the Exposition’s host, what would it be like for the City to be so now in its role as a World Heritage City?  With World Heritage status and global connections, teachers and students might wish to envision what an international exposition would look like today.  This exercise, especially considering current dilemmas and concerns, challenges us all to look at ourselves and Philadelphia in new ways.

To begin, teachers and their students might enjoy starting their study of the 1876 Centennial with a trip to see the diorama of the Exposition housed at the Please Touch Museum in Fairmount Park’s Memorial Hall.  If one cannot visit, because of the visuals created to record the event, especially photographs, colorful stereograph cards, and advertising cards, we can be virtual visitors, seeing so much of what actual visitors saw.  (Go to and search “Centennial” to see many watercolors and other views of the Fair.)

After viewing these images, here are some questions to pursue:

  • If students could design and plan a new international exposition, what would they want to include?  Could a class simulate a set of design competitors and a judging committee to make key decisions?
  • How would students find supporters willing to pay for the costs?
  • Could students interview members of the Global Philadelphia Association to get their input for cultural and business exhibit and activities for the Exposition?
  • If students were delegates from another World Heritage city around the globe, how would they design their city’s exhibit?  What would they want their message to Philadelphia be?
  • What about the food courts?  What Philadelphia and American food would students want to sell?  What about other countries and World Heritage cities?  What food would they sell?
  • How would Philadelphia represent its World Heritage City status and its international connections?
  • How would people travel to the Exposition?  Flights, Uber system, shuttles from the Philadelphia airport, special SEPTA schedules, parking facilities?
  • What sorts of displays would students include in the Exposition?  What music and entertainment would there be?  Would some students want to write a rap or create a dance to commemorate the Exposition?
  • How would students advertise and report on the Exposition?  Twitter, Smart phone apps?  Would someone write a guide, in different languages?  With maps and drawings?
  • Would students create products to visually represent the Exposition just like the stereoscope cards from 1876?
  • What about groups that are encountering difficulty in American society now, either foreign-born or American by birth?  Would people of Muslim background, for example, get to have exhibits at our exposition?  Would DACA recipients?
  • How would students envision use of the Exposition’s site after the event had concluded?
  • How might students study the history of memorials for African Americans in Philadelphia, particularly after the recent placement of the statue of Octavius Catto (1839-1871) at City Hall ?

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