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Theses Doctoral

The Empire on Display: Exhibitions of Germanic Art and Design in America, 1890 - 1914

McCarthy, Megan Kathleen

This dissertation offers the first comprehensive and critical study of Germanic art and design exhibitions of the late Wilhelmine Period in America, analyzing how they served as newfound modes of cultural diplomacy in the United States. It centers on the preparation, execution, and reception of large-scale displays mounted at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (1904), Harvard Germanic Museum (1903), Metropolitan Museum of Art (1909), and Newark Museum (1912-1914); and draws primarily from unpublished archival materials and original sources. While these were by no means the only methods of German transatlantic artistic exchange during this period, they offer exceptional breadth and variety in terms of curatorial aims, financial support, tactics of display and critical reception. Although varied, each show manifests the confidence that exhibitions can accomplish diplomatic goals. Some were patronized by the Kaiser himself. Others were mounted exclusively outside the aegis of the imperial crown. Each acting as a discrete embodiment of German national identity--intentionally or unintentionally--these exhibitions, I argue, were distinct and critical motivating factors in the American reception of German culture at large. Mounted at a time when Germany experienced increased international criticism for its colonial endeavors and foreign policy in general, the shows in this study shed light on the central role played by German émigrés and their efforts to bridge two national identities. Simultaneously, the United States was also entering the international stage as a modern nation-state and economic powerhouse, and other world powers looked to make inroads and forge new alliances across the ocean. Moreover, this project offers a new model for research into art and diplomacy more generally, as previously-unsearched archival collections serve as my most compelling and important source material. Locating German-American artistic exchange at the heart of fin-de-siècle transatlantic crosscurrents, my dissertation reveals the significant place of Germanic art in the American imaginary before the outbreak of the First World War.

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Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Hutchinson, Elizabeth W.
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
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