Public Anthropology “at the Fair”: 1893 Origins, 21st-Century Opportunities


  • Carolyn Schiller Johnson

    1. Lecturer in Social Science Collegiate Division, The University of Chicago, and Research Associate, The Field Museum, Chicago, IL 60605
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ABSTRACT  What have been the connections between anthropology and public fairs and festivals in the United States? Anthropologists have been involved in public fairs and festivals in the United States for over 100 years. Back in 1893, members of the new discipline of anthropology played a major role in the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition, both in the huge Anthropology Building and on the sprawling Midway Plaisance. Today, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., is in many ways a modern laboratory for research and experience in public anthropology, ethnomusicology, and folklore. In this essay, I examine the profound changes in the control of voices and discourse surrounding the activities at these types of fairs and festivals. I challenge anthropologists to observe and participate in this expanding discursive field and ask how sites like YouTube can aid in the process and enable critical future developments in pubic anthropology.