The construction of an industrialist imaginary in Europe between Enlightenment and social utopias: From the Encyclopédie to the World’s Exhibitions


The project aims to analyse the way in which from the end of the eighteenth century and throughout nineteenth century the construction and dissemination to a general public of new representations of industrial civilization was becoming evident.
Special attention will be given to the forms of visual communication of the new technologies created in the nineteenth century (lithography, photography, cinema) and to the phenomenon of great international exhibitions, as an impressive movement of self-representation of modern industrial society.
The international exhibitions during the nineteenth century defined a cultural Koinè that linked Europe and North America around the ideals and symbolic elements of the new industrial society, establishing a clear hierarchy with the other areas of the world.

1. State of art
The economic historiography in recent years has analyzed many cultural aspects of the industrial activities. We know a lot about the mentality of entrepreneurs, on work cultures, professional skills and technical education. There are many studies on the construction of the social representation of the entrepreneurial world in the nineteenth century (the self-helpism studies or more recent ones about the inclusion of entrepreneurs and inventors in the National Pantheon, C.MacLeod,2007); there are many studies on the genesis and development of myths and ideologies of this period such as those related to the concept of progress and social development. Recent discussions of economic history, from the proto-industry to the role of technology, entrepreneurs and the relationship between small and medium enterprises, devote much attention also to cultural aspects.
However this analysis’ only concern is with economic thought, or mentalities history, while rarely studying the circulation channels, the languages, the mechanisms of representation and construction of public imaginaries which promoted pro-industrialist ideas among a general public.
The research project aims to identify and analyse the mechanisms, the diffusion channels and content – from an iconographic point of view– of the industrialist message.
These elements are largely new and in close connections with technological development. Also, they also needed new social actors who produced and managed them. Initially, the “social engineers” feed the public imaginaries by the production of projects and representations of new social realities.
Next to them, there were more traditional actors, such as artists or scientific societies that express an interest in social issues related to the industrial society, or even - towards the end of the century – the associations of workers and employers.

2. Objective and content of research
The research project begins by the deep examination of the transformation that has occurred since the second half of the eighteenth century in the representation of industry and labour. As several studies have shown such as those of J. Sewell, already the Encyclopédie of Diderot and D'Alembert was the expression of a cultural and political program which tended to overcome the traditional “craft secret”. It was opposed to the closed corporate traditions, supported a visibility that allowed the rationalization, sharing and improvement of work processes. The illustrations in the Encyclopédie were not merely decorative, but an essential part of this program in order to enhance technical and productive knowledge; so, they represent the most visible of a new process of building a “social space of the technology” (L. Perez). This space is developed on the basis of the Enlightenment, but also on the basis of the new networks of communication and exchange, stimulating new habits and attitudes to compare, to imitate, to transpose. These new practices exceed the narrow confines of the world of crafts and break the boundaries of the universe of corporations. Some studies of the international research group connected with the University of Padua and based in Paris (Paris Diderot 7/ Centre Koyrè EHESS/ CNAM), stressed that the Encyclopédie was the key point of passage from technique to technology. The network system of the Encyclopedia allows the development of a comparative thought, encyclopedic and humanist, establishing close links between the technical and social sciences, and therefore allowing us to think of a "technology as human science "(A.-G. Haudricourt).
World exhibitions were intended to extend a such logic to an international and global scale, along a path that goes from the first national exhibitions (mainly French, but also in many other European countries, and even in Italy), until the Great Exhibition of 1851.
From 1851 another aspect of the Expositions became explicit, which is linked to another great source for creating social imaginary related to the world of technology and progress: the great utopias that characterized the end of the eighteenth century and the early nineteenth century.
The "public display" of World Fairs was diametrically opposed to the logic of Bentham’s panopticon, but nevertheless aimed at a similar goal of social control. The difference was that the optical devices were now centered on the logic of the goods as a spectacle, which warranted the support of broad masses of the population. The appearance of exhibitions as phantasmagorias, stressed by Benjamin, expressed the extreme richness and articulation of the imaginary accompanying the exhibition phenomenon.
The utopian ideas profoundly affected the phenomenon of large international Exhibitions, because the intellectuals inspired by utopian thought tried to combine their social projects, linked to the new industrial society, with the traditional tendency to foreshadow an “ideal city”. In this sense, the architecture of the World Fairs, the construction of exhibition citadels, planned rationally and laden with symbolic meanings and implications, were particularly suitable to convey the message of those currents of thought that made direct reference to the role of technocratic elites, science and industry in the construction of the new civilization. Therefore the research will analyze the role, the figures, the language of "social engineers", often directly and explicitly linked to the utopian currents.

2.1. The exhibitions as a space for the social imaginary of the new industrial society
The exhibits were a central intersection to a survey targeted to reconstruct images and representations: they were themselves a form of representation, such as to rally an extraordinary participation of the public. In those events the representation of the new technological civilization reached a complexity and a thickness that went far beyond the creation of images, symbols, and representations of objects or of specific aspects of industrial society.
The conceptual design of the Exhibition, its division into classes in order to sort and classify organically and rationally the whole universe of production, became a representation visible and tangible in the architecture and urban planning of the exhibition’s citadels, but also in the individual pavilions, and furthermore into the selection of products on display; and it was reflected even in the immense iconographic and illustrative production, ranging from the official catalogs to publicity materials.
The research will analyze the performances not only of heavy industry, spectacularized and exalted in the majestic halls of the industry that were the place most imposing and impressive of those displays of the industrial civilization, but also the representations of new industrial products related to refinement and elegance. They attempted, then, to praise the industry's ability to connect with the culture of high art. The research will also examine the aspects of protection of health and working conditions of the workers, and therefore the ability of the new industrial society generate forms of social progress. We will consider the reciprocal influence of these new imaginaries, with cultural currents and contemporary art: the movement of the “Arts & Crafts” and Liberty; but also traditional forms and new representations of the world of work, which have been some time ago analyzed by scholars like Hobsbawm and Agulhon.
The exhibitions expressed imaginaries, and cultures of work and industry, which had dealings with the political and cultural movements of the time. Another result, probably the most innovative one, of this project will consist in the reconstruction of public discussions, of the lively debates taking place around the exhibition, to the way they presented the social and productive situations in different countries.
In addition to rebuilding and thematising the imagery of industry and progress, the research will also analyze the change of the means and channels of communication that changed also as a result of technological innovations.
Finally, we will analyze authors and texts of this iconographic production, and we will build a first historical map of the spread and the national characteristics of this kind of illustration. The first research surveys have indeed shown that there is a significant share of interaction and interchange, with passages of authors, models and even of real “clichés” between different places and different publications; but there were also an national “appearance” of the iconographic representations. These iconographic national / international productions have to be studied through the reconstruction of a historical geography of their making and circulation, and through considerable and comparable sources, such us as the official catalogs and the more diffused English, French, German and Italian illustrated magazines.
Overall, therefore, the research will bring a better understanding of one of the most important nodes concerning the development and the mass diffusion of an industrialist culture in Europe.

The sources
Research will focus on visual sources relating to world exhibitions, which has not been the subject of systematic studies. They range from industrial catalogs, from the official reports of the juries, rich in extremely precise, technical and detailed judgments, to the catalogs of individual sections or of individual nations; from the illustrated "chronicles " of exhibitions, to specialized magazines or to the series of lecture published for the occasion, not to mention the posters, the postcards, the flyers, and the advertising brochures. Even the most important illustrated magazines, which often arose at the same time of the great exhibitions, in the beginning were likely to be occasionally transformed in real catalogs of exhibitions.
Many sources are now available through repertoire and image databases; but most of them requires a lookup on industrial catalogs, official reports on the exhibitions, visual materials related to the phenomenon, as listed above. Throughout the nineteenth century, Paris has been considered the Queen town of Exhibitions. Therefore the capital preserves a wide range of materials at European level. Parisian libraries are rich of these documents, not only the Bibliothèque F. Mitterrand, but also the archives and the library of the CNAM (Conservatoire Nationales des arts et métiers and Cedias (Musée Social), the Biblioque Fornay, the Bibliothèque historique de la ville de Paris, the library of the BIE (Bureau International des expositions), as well as other specialized libraries and the "Archives Nationales".

Stages and research products
The first stage (first year) will be focused on investigating through a systematic study of the international scientific literature on the subject from different disciplinary approaches. Particular attention will be payed to studies on the development of visual communication forms typical of the nineteenth century (such as lithography, photography, the first animated image), studies on the public imaginaries, and the social representations of industry and work. Then, we will proceed to investigating the available sources of information.
The second stage (second year) will be focused on elaborating the materials found during the first year. In order to evaluate the planning of the research and the results of the first phase it will be organized an international workshop.
The Department proposed as “research base” is the “Dipartimento di scienze storiche, geografiche e dell'antichità” (DISSGEA) of Padua University. The technical support and infrastructure available for the project consist of the basic computer equipment for the building of a digital database, a historical library as a base for research, the administrative staff for the possible drafting of contracts and agreements for collaboration to research with other research organizations. This project is part of an international network that includes institutions such as: the Conservatoire Nationales des Arts et Métiers of Paris (in the person of André Guillerme), the Université de Paris Diderot VII (Liliane Hilarie Peréz), the Harvard University and the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, (Antoine Picon), the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (Maurice Aymard, André Grelon and Maurizio Gribaudi); the Archives Nationales and the Alexandre Koyré Center of Paris (Christiane Demeulenaere-Douyère), the University of Evora (Ana Cardoso de Matos), the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (Antoni Roca-Rosell), and the Queen Mary University of London (Donald Sassoon). Finally, the BIE (Bureau International des Expositions) through the person of Ivan Prostakov will provide a significant institutional support. Inspired by this collaboration, an International Conference entitled: World Exhibitions in Europe. Players, publics, cultural heritages between metropolis and colonies 1851-1939 (by the partnership of the BIE and Paris Diderot7 University) on the subject of the Universal Exhibitions in Europe was held in Padua November 13 – 15, 2014. There are several other publications and initiatives still ongoing.

Expected final results :
A. The realization of a database of images and iconographic sources on industry and labour within the literature accompanying the universal exhibitions
B. A study in which we will give a new interpretation of the representations of industrial society in the Nineteenth century through the experience of the great universal exhibitions.
The database of images provides a systematic collection of all the illustrations concerning Universal Exhibitions that appeared on major illustrated national magazines in the Nineteenth century. Among these, the most relevant are: "The Illustrated London News", "L'Illustration", "Die Illustrierte Zeitung" and "L'Illustration Italiana". Through this consistent collection of representations, widely varied as regard the style as well as the selection of images, we will elaborate comparative considerations that will enable the understanding of how the industrialist message of Universal Exhibition had been perceived and circulated, from an European visual communication point of view.
The final study will primarily examine the state and evolution of the iconography of the imaginaries of the world of labour and industry during the Nineteenth century in general terms. Secondly, it will investigate the time of transition between the Enlightenment and the phase of national exhibitions of the first half of the nineteenth century; then the birth and the consolidation of the imaginaries from the 1851 Great Exhibition in London to the Parisian Exhibition in 1900. Finally, it will examine the phases and technology transfers that occurred by the end of the century together with the pertaining modification of forms and iconography of the imaginaries. The final part will be developed on a more global scale and with an eye to what happened outside Europe, between exoticism and colonialism.

2015 - 2017

Anna Pellegrino

Responsabile per il Dipartimento
Giovanni Luigi Fontana