Date of Award


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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




During the country’s worst economic crisis, the Great Depression, Chicago hosted an event that presented a vision for the future. The 1933-34 Century of Progress Exposition was Chicago’s second world’s fair, important for revitalizing the local economy as well as encouraging optimism for a better future. While the fair’s theme officially focused on scientific and technological progress and was intended to be forward-looking, several exhibits dwelt on the past.

Study of these historic-themed exhibits reveals that by featuring Abraham Lincoln, Fort Dearborn, Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable, and a replica colonial village, Americans looked to their shared past to make sense of their world and to revisit what they perceived as American values. Understanding how Americans saw the past can help explain how they understood themselves, and the world’s fair is a case study for how Americans have relied on their understandings of the past to sustain them during times of crisis.

Many people were involved in presenting their visions of the past. Illinois historical societies and Governor Henry Horner worked to share Abraham Lincoln’s memory, so important to the state of Illinois. Black women from Chicago’s South Side worked together to claim the history of Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable, and in doing so claim the city as their own. The colonial village was designed and built by white men looking to make money during the Great Depression, but women’s organizations fought for ownership of the colonial past and for recognition of their historic preservation work.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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