The Great Exhibition of 1851

A Nation on Display
Auerbach, Jeffrey
Date published: 
October 1999

The Great Exhibition of 1851, held in London's spectacular Crystal Palace, was the first world fair and the first industrial exhibition. It was also much more, Jeffrey Auerbach demonstrates in this fascinating book: the Great Exhibition was the single defining event for nineteenthc-century Britons between the Battle of Waterloo (1815) and the Diamond Jubilee (1897).

Enhanced by dozens of illustration, this wide-ranging account of the Great Exhibition reveals for the first time how the extraordinary occasion was conceived and planned, why it was such an unexpected success, what it actually meant to the millions of Britons who visited it, and what it came to mean in later generations. The book challenges the common view that the exhibition symbolised peace, progress, and prosperity, and the emergence of an industrial middle class. Auerbach suggests instead that the Great Exhibition became a cultural battlefield on which proponents of different visions of industrialization, modernization, and internationalism fought for ascendancy in the struggle for a new national identity. Drawing on extensive archival research in such diverse areas as politics, economics, social structure, and international relations, this book contributes not only to our understanding of British national identity in the Victorian era but also to our understanding of the formation of national identities in the modern era.