0301 World's Fairs and Colonialism

  • Beat Wyss (Author)

    Beat Wyss is professor emeritus of art history and media theory at the Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe. He held a chair at the Ruhr University in Bochum and was director of the art history institute at the Technical University of Stuttgart. He was Visiting Professor at Cornell University, New York, at Aarhus University and at Tallinn University. At the Swiss Institute of Art History in Zurich, he supervised an international doctoral project on the history of the Venice Biennale. He has held numerous fellowships at the Getty Center in Santa Monica, CA, the International Research Center for Cultural Studies in Vienna, the Istituto Svizzero in Rome and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA, among others. In 2001 he received the Art Prize of the City of Lucerne. Wyss is a member of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. He has published a major book on the intertwining of global aspirations, colonial entanglements, and national assertion at international exhibitions in the past entitled Bilder von der Globalisierung: Die Weltausstellung von Paris 1889, Berlin 2010.

Identifiers (Article)


This survey on the history of world’s fairs since 1851 starts with the losers of this contest in national profiling and industrial competition: Germany and Austria, both former territories of the Holy Roman Empire and belated nation states. Both had been rather unlucky colonizers. Some of the leading colonial states, instead, organized more than three world’s fairs in the time span from 1851 until today: France, Belgium, and Spain, all of them Catholic. Holland, the Calvinist colonial power, renounced on this kind of spectacles at all, Great Britain contented itself with two performances. World’s fairs don’t pay off. While the USA participated regularly since 1876, two spectacular world’s fair events, Osaka 1970, and Shanghai 2010, mark the rise of the Asian powers. The history of world’s fairs mirrors global politics, diplomacy and wars against the backdrop of late colonial history.


world's fair, nationalism, colonialism