Global Megaevents. Creating Worlds and Inhabiting Them

Wendy Asquith (U of Liverpool)


It has been said that World Expos of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century were the largest gatherings of people – war or peace – of all time. Taking place in the ‘age of empire’, these events have been largely read from a hegemonic perspective as spectacular displays of imperial prowess: sites for the topographic expression of colonial domination, economic power and racial/spatial orders. Yet, these events were never uncontested spaces, even when staged at the height of empire in the imperial metropole. Surveying the built environment of some of the largest World Expos in the modern era, this presentation will open by reflecting on the zoning practices, naming choices and architectural statements of host nations. Juxtaposed against this backdrop, I will illuminate the ways that various spatial entrepreneurs have used global megaevents to imagine, co-dream or propose the possibility of alternative spatial orders (or to claim an alternative place for themselves in the world order proposed by the host nation). Among the events, activities and ideas I will discuss are: African diasporic activism at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, PanAfrican Arts and Cultural festivals of the 1960s and ‘70s, Haiti’s Bicentenaire de Port-au-Prince of 1949-50, and the internationalisms proposed by the League of Nations at pre-war World Expos in Paris and New York.

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About the Speaker

Wendy Asquith is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Politics at the University of Liverpool. She is a specialist in interdisciplinary research at the intersection of Visual Culture Studies, History and Politics with interests in the cultural histories of humanitarianism, international institutions, postcolonial nationhood and African diasporas. She was a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Nottingham (2016-2020) for a project entitled “The Spectacle of Universal Human Rights: A Century of Intergovernmental Display at World’s Fairs” and an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award Holder with Tate Liverpool (2010-2013) for the project “Haiti in Art: Creating and Curating in the Black Atlantic”. She is currently working on the GCRF-funded project “The Antislavery Knowledge Network” at the University of Liverpool. Her first monograph, entitled “Exhibiting Haiti: The Art of Postcolonial Politics” is forthcoming with the University of Virginia Press.