The Inglorious Arts of Peace: Exhibitions in Canadian Society During the Nineteenth Century

Description

412 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
$50.00
ISBN 0-8020-4272-4
DDC 907.4'71

Author

Year

1999

Contributor

Reviewed by R. Douglas Francis

R. Douglas Francis is a professor of history at the University of
Calgary and the co-author of Destinies: Canadian History Since
Confederation.

Review

The Inglorious Arts of Peace examines local, provincial, national, and
international exhibitions from roughly 1830 to 1900 in an effort to
discover what they tell us about Canadian identity and Canadian society
in the 19th century. The author begins by noting that exhibitions were
offsprings of the Enlightenment, premised on beliefs in human
rationality, intellectual progress, and theoretical knowledge. Yet,
ironically, they ended up reflecting the opposite: the emotions over
rationality; economic advancement over intellectual growth; and
empirical and practical knowledge over theory. The reason for the change
is that in order to succeed, exhibitors had to appeal to the masses.
Thus exhibitions that were originally designed to educate, to elevate
knowledge, and to celebrate the finest of Western Civilization ended up
being “frivolous, given over to commercialism and the
carnivalesque.” In a book that is grounded in a postmodernist
perspective, Heaman looks for the “hidden motives” of power and
control below the surface of rationality, harmony, and peace that
exhibitions were designed to convey.

Part 1 deals with fairs and exhibitions within central Canada (Upper
and Lower Canada until 1867; Ontario and Quebec after 1867). She
highlights the role of fairs in the rebellions of 1837–38 in both the
Canadas; the transition from agricultural fairs to industrial
exhibitions between 1840 and 1890; and the emergence of large-scale
provincial exhibitions after mid-century. Throughout her analysis, she
keeps in mind two key questions: who benefited from these fairs, and
what values did the fairs perpetuate?

Part 2 looks at Canada’s contribution to international exhibitions,
from the Great London Exhibition of 1851 to the World’s Columbian
Exhibition in Chicago in 1893. For Canadians these exhibitions were both
a form of self-identity and a means of gaining international
recognition. As Heaman points out, the navel gazing came into frequent
conflict with the craving for recognition abroad.

Part 3 examines the place of women and Native peoples in these
international exhibitions. In keeping with her postmodernist context,
the author describes how white males initially used exhibitions to
dominate women and Natives, and how, in the end, these powerless
subaltern groups used exhibitions to gain power and to achieve
recognition.

This study of exhibitions in Canadian society is exhaustive—and
exhausting. At times, the detail is overwhelming, getting in the way of
the author’s analysis. As well, there is a great deal of repetition.
Heaman feels compelled to deal with every fair and exhibition held,
whereas in many cases one good example would have sufficed. All in all,
however, The Inglorious Arts of Peace is a valuable contribution to the
growing literature on Canadian popular culture.

Citation

Heaman, E.A., “The Inglorious Arts of Peace: Exhibitions in Canadian Society During the Nineteenth Century,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 22, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/809.