UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Naturalized seeing/colonial vision : interrogating the display of races in late nineteenth century France Wan, Marilyn


In August 1877, fourteen Africans from Nubia were exhibited among giraffes, camels and elephants for the gaze of the Parisian public at the Jardin d'Acclimatation, a botanical and zoological garden founded to "acclimatate, breed and disseminate to the public animal and vegetable species newly introduced to France." Three months later, six Eskimos from Greenland were also put on display. This new practice of displaying non-Europeans amidst exotic flora and fauna became an immediate success. The subsequent appropriation of such an exhibiting practice by the French government at the 1889 Exposition Universelle bestowed further legitimacy to human displays. At the Exposition, France displayed more than 900 of its colonial subjects in specially reconstructed pavillions and villages. The colonial section, one of the major highlights of the Exposition, was so successful that it served as a model for future displays of races in both France and the United-States. If members of non-European peoples had been sporadically exhibited as curiosities at circus side-shows since the sixteenth-century, they were, in the last two decades of the nineteenth-century, displayed in legitimate institutionalised settings. These so-called 'ethnographic' exhibits were hailed by both the scientists and popular press as having scientific and educational value. This thesis explores both the ways in which the displays of non-European peoples at the Jardin d'Acclimatation and the 1889 Exposition Coloniale became accepted as normal and natural, as well as the various political and economic agendas they fulfilled. Some of the ideological functions of this exhibiting practice are examined by looking at how the Third Republic used the display of its colonized subjects in 1889 to convince the public of the benefits of imperialism. I argue that the way in which the exposition was visually organized and the mobility that it allowed the viewer were crucial in winning the public to the colonial cause. To answer the central question of how such a practice came to be accepted as normal and natural, I investigate how a variety of discourses and practices worked together to make the cultural natural. I contend that exisiting notions of racial hierarchy, the impact of Third Republican educational theories of "knowledge through seeing" inherited from the Enlightment, and modes of visual consumption associated with tourism and department stores, worked together to legitimize the display of races, thereby facilitating the naturalizing process.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.