Saturday, September 30, 2023

ISIE symposium studies world expos

By Jim Ogul

The first annual symposium for the Institute for the Study of International Expositions (ISIE) took place 24-25 March 2022 as an online event. The symposium was jointly sponsored by the University of Arizona College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture (CAPLA) and Office of Research, Innovation and Impact as well as the Centre for Transformative Media Technologies at Swinburne University, Australia.

ISIE is a worldwide network of researchers interested in the design, promotion, reception, and consequence of the world’s fairs and expositions held since 1851. The leaders of the organization are Dr. Alison de Kruiff (Lecturer, Swinburne University of Technology), James Fortuna (Ph.D. candidate, University of St Andrews), Flavia Marcello (Associate Professor of Architectural History, Swinburne University of Technology), and Lisa Schrenk, Ph.D. (Associate Professor of Architectural History, University of Arizona).

The idea for the Institute came about as Marcello, Fortuna, and Schrenk were preparing for a Society for the History of American Foreign Relations-sponsored panel that was to have been part of the 2021 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association. That meeting was cancelled due to the pandemic, but the three continued their discussions and the vision for ISIE was realized.

During the course of the ISIE two-day symposium, some 70 attended from more than 15 countries, including Spain, Sri Lanka, Portugal, China, Australia, Kuwait, and Sweden. Most attendees were from academia, ranging from graduate students to senior scholars. Others included people in the business of expositions, and enthusiasts.

The symposium included five keynote presentations, reflecting the theme of the event: International Expositions: Looking to the Past, Seeing the Future. The opening keynote was by Robert Rydell (Dept. of History, Montana State University) a leading scholar on international expositions, and the closing keynote was by Mark Ritchie, Board Chair of Minnesota’s World Fair Bid Committee Educational Fund and Co-Founder of Minnesota USA Expo.

In his presentation, Ritchie shared the story behind helping motivate the U.S. to rejoin the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) and the related, ongoing effort to bring a world’s fair to the U.S. in 2027. The BIE is the intergovernmental organization in charge of overseeing and regulating World Expos, since 1931. The U.S. had originally joined the BIE in 1968 but its membership ended in 2001 due to Congress not appropriating annual dues for three years running. Being a non-member would have doomed a Minnesota bid to failure as BIE members have first priority in the bidding process to host an Expo.   

The three middle keynote speakers were Van Troi Tran (Lecturer in Ethnology at Laval University), Sudesh Mantillake (Faculty Member, University of Peradeniya) and Sarah Moore (Professor of American Art History, University of Arizona). Their presentations illustrated the breadth of current exposition scholarship, and papers presented during the conference were arranged thematically around the keynote presentations. Day One included panels dedicated to further explorations of ‘Expositions as Geopolitical Spaces,’ ‘Expositions and Empire,’ and ‘Expositions and the Environment.’ Day Two built off those themes by considering ‘Expositions and Material Culture’ and ‘The Exposition City.’ The second day also included an open session. On both days, participants had opportunities to contribute to roundtable discussions and engage with one another in virtual breakout rooms. There was also an informal presentation of insights from Expo 2020 Dubai and slideshows of photos from Dubai and other recent world’s fairs.

Going forward, ISIE plans to further develop its website to serve as a valuable networking tool for those working in the field. They are also exploring the creation of an ISIE publication, preparing a proposal for a large research grant, and starting the planning process for a future symposium.

Jim Ogul
Jim Ogul
Since retiring from the US State Department in 2011 after a 30+ year career in world expos, James Ogul ([email protected]) has remained on the scene in an advisory and consulting role. He writes regularly for InPark Magazine about world’s fairs. See his free online book, Tales From the Expo.

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