The town on show
The town on show
Focusing on an important nineteenth-century innovation in civic promotion, the public exhibition, chapter two explores the ways in which a broader interpretation of the term ‘urban representation’ challenge existing simplistic narratives of urban competition and civic pride. Covering a range of events including: panoramas, dioramas, the Birmingham Exposition of 1849, the Great Exhibition of 1851, the London International Exhibition of 1862, and the Art-Treasures Exhibition in Manchester in 1857, the chapter re-examines debates surrounding national and regional identity, class hierarchies and industrial stereotypes. An analysis of the exhibits themselves, their representation in the popular press and literature, and images of the exhibition venues, reveals how appraising a town or city through such events led to a re-evaluation of the very notion of urban competition. Using engaging and unusual sources, such as the ‘Norfolk Knife’, John Cassell’s Illustrated Exhibitor, exhibition ‘trophies’, this chapter provides a subtle account of the manner in which commercial and civic identities became merged in the popular imagination. In so doing, it challenges historians’ reliance upon an over-simplistic model of urban promotion based solely on the binary relationship of competition and emulation.
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