“This remarkable study of modern life expands historical archaeology in exciting, bold ways. We finally have a book that provides fresh perspectives on modernity and its everyday meanings to people living with its implications.”—Charles E. Orser Jr., author of The Archaeology of Race and Racialization in Historic America
“Innovative. Assessing how social, economic, and cultural life in the Midwest were codified and reproduced at the turn of the twentieth century, Graff elucidates the impacts of a rapidly developing industrial economy, the rise of labor unions and unrest, and burgeoning ideas of modernity.”—Deborah L. Rotman, author of The Archaeology of Gender in Historic America
“Graff has provided compelling insight into past Chicago society through the lens of archaeology, exploring that most revealing source—the trash people left behind.”—Matthew Johnson, author of Archaeological Theory: An Introduction
Through archaeological and archival research from sites associated with the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Disposing of Modernity: The Archaeology of Garbage and Consumerism during Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair explores the changing world of urban America at the turn of the twentieth century. Featuring excavations of trash deposited during the fair, Rebecca Graff’s first-of-its-kind study reveals changing consumer patterns, notions of domesticity and progress, and anxieties about the modernization of society.
Graff examines artifacts, architecture, and written records from the 1893 fair’s Ohio Building, which was used as a clubhouse for fairgoers in Jackson Park, and the Charnley-Persky House, an aesthetically modern city residence designed by Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. Many of the items she uncovers were products that first debuted at world’s fairs, and materials such as mineral water bottles, cheese containers, dentures, and dinnerware illustrate how fairs created markets for new goods and influenced consumer practices.
Graff discusses how the fair’s ephemeral nature gave it transformative power in Chicago society, and she connects its accompanying “conspicuous disposal” habits to today’s waste disposal regimes. Reflecting on current plans to build the Obama Presidential Center at the site of the Chicago World’s Fair, she draws attention to the ways the historical trends documented here continue in the present.
Rebecca S. Graff is associate professor of anthropology at Lake Forest College.