Researching the Panama-Pacific International Exposition
by Abigail Markwyn
|California Invites the World|
When I began my research on the Panama-Pacific International Exposition years ago, nothing was digitized. That meant that archives like the San Francisco History Center were absolutely essential to my work. It was in the History Center that I discovered photos and pamphlets, official memos, press releases, and letters that all helped me bring the fair to life. Eventually, this research formed the basis for Empress San Francisco: The Pacific Rim, the Great West, and California at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Even today – or rather, especially today – when many historical documents are digitized, there remains much to be learned from visiting the collections of libraries and archives.
|The People's Easy Guide to the PPIE|
Pamphlets, such as the Exposition City, or the Carnival Spirit of San Francisco offered me insight into just how fair boosters sought to “sell” the city to tourists. They emphasized things like the city’s cosmopolitan population, pleasant climate, and plentiful economic opportunities in the hopes of convincing tourists to consider making the city their home. Other pieces of publicity stressed the fun parts of the fair – the Joy Zone, the restaurants, and the many works of art. Still others reminded visitors of the educational features of the fair. [Archivist's note: these resources are available in the San Francisco History Center's San Francisco Ephemera Collection.]
Photographs, like this one of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition's Woman’s Board revealed to me the extent of these women’s involvement in the fair. Here, they host a dinner for visiting dignitaries and officials, performing an act of cultural diplomacy in their capacity as hostess.
|Women's Board Dinner - California Building, Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915|
|Japan Day, Panama-Pacific International Exposition, August 31, 1915|
Others, such as these of Japan Day at the fair, reveal in full detail the numerous celebrations that occurred on the grounds to celebrate Japan, even as many Californians vehemently spouted anti-Japanese rhetoric and supported anti-immigrant measures aimed at the Japanese.
|Dedication of Swedish Building at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915|
Ethnic communities from across the Bay Area gathered on the fair grounds to celebrate their heritage, as this photo of the dedication of the Swedish Building at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition illustrates.
|"African Dip" in The Zone at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915|
Historians rely on many kinds of sources for their research, but as these photos reveal, the topic of a World’s Fair lends itself particularly to reliance on the visual record. Collections such as that of the San Francisco Public Library are essential to telling these stories, and I’m forever grateful to those librarians a hundred years ago who carefully collected and cataloged these!
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