The Role of International Exhibitions in Britain, 1850–1910: Perceptions of Economic Decline and the Technical Education Issue

by Anthony Edwards


International exhibitions were a key feature of the cultural landscape of the second half of the nineteenth century. They provided the most powerful nations with a stage on which they could affirm their status as world leaders. Increasingly they also allowed emerging nations to celebrate their growing economic and industrial prowess.

In Britain the potential challenge this presented to the exiting order was noted by a few contemporary observers who, because of what they had seen at exhibitions, were convinced that the country was at risk economically. They regarded technical education as the remedy to cure this perceived ill. Historians of this period have similarly concluded that British complacency towards this issue led to decline.

This book investigates these assumptions by systematically exploring the relationship between participation in international exhibitions, the state of the economy, and the issue of technical education from a British perspective between 1850 and 1910.

The book begins with the 1867 Paris exhibition; it examines the enquiries into technical education that it generated in England and ends with the Royal Commission on Scientific Instruction and the Advancement of Science. It then examines the link between the 1876 Philadelphia and the 1878 Paris exhibitions and the Royal Commission on Technical Instruction. The 1884 and 1885 London exhibitions, the Royal Commission on the Depression of Trade, and the Technical Instruction Act are also studied. The study then moves to the 1893 Chicago and the 1900 Paris exhibitions. This is followed by an examination of the International Exhibitions Committee, which was established in the early part of the twentieth century to undertake research into the link between exhibitions and the well being of British trade. This represents a unique and rarely used source with which to explore the issue at the heart of this work. Finally, the study establishes that commercial rather than technical education had been the want of the age.

This unique volume will be a valuable addition to collections in British history, international trade, history of education, and history of economics.


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