Rebecca Graff

Tuesday, February 2, at 7:00 p.m. Rebecca Graff, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Lake Forest College, Disposing of Modernity The Archaeology of Garbage and Consumerism during Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair (Co-published with The Society for Historical Archaeology)

Through archaeological and archival research from sites associated with the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Disposing of Modernity 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.

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