Document Type

Thesis

Publication Date

2006

Abstract

The thesis explores the development and presentation of the Indian Congress exhibit at the 1898 Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition in Omaha. Intended to provide fairgoers an opportunity to witness an ethnological representation of the life and customs of Native Americans, the exhibit ultimately took a different shape than its creators intended. Funding delays and mismanagement resulted in the Indian Congress taking on many of the traits of a Wild West show, and sham battle performances became a regular feature at the exhibit. Despite these changes, the Indian Congress continued to be promoted as a “serious ethnological exhibit,” and became the most popular feature of the exposition, much to the dismay of those who had endorsed its original design. The popular success of the Indian exhibit at the Trans-Mississippi Exposition ultimately led to the addition of similar “Indian Congresses” featuring sham battles at larger expositions, including Buffalo’s Pan American Exposition in 1901 and St. Louis’s Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904. Ethnologists would have the opportunity to compete with these sensationalized depictions of Native American life with their own exhibits, but they would struggle to attract public interest.

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