Nineteenth-Century World’s Fairs as Accountability Systems: Scopic Systems, Audit Practices and Educational Data


  • Noah W. Sobe Loyola University Chicago
  • David T. Boven Loyola University Chicago



accountability, history of education, world’s fairs, international expositions, audit practices, comparative education


Late-19th century World’s Fairs constitute an important chapter in the history of educational accountability. International expositions allowed for educational systems and practices to be “audited” by lay and expert audiences. In this article we examine how World’s Fair exhibitors sought to make visible educational practices and institutions for external validation. Focusing especially on the American education exhibits mounted at Vienna (1873), Philadelphia (1876), Chicago (1893), and Paris (1900), we use historical documents connected with the preparation of exhibits as well as reports written during and after the Fairs to bring to light the curatorial principles and exhibitionary practices governing education exhibits. This examination helps us to understand educational accountability mechanisms and procedures not simply as technical undertakings, but as social systems with an important set of effects. The scopic systems at play and in contestation for accurately and fairly presenting education systems for outside scrutiny did much to shape the national/international contexts within which school systems operate as well as in what directions educators and policymakers sought to direct/redirect schooling.


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Author Biographies

Noah W. Sobe, Loyola University Chicago

Noah Sobe is a historian of education and comparative education scholar who researches the trans-national circulation of educational ideas, policies and practices. He is a board member of the International Standing Conference on the History of Education (ISCHE) and the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) as well as co-editor of the journal European Education. 

David T. Boven, Loyola University Chicago

David Boven is a historian of education whose research focuses on colonial education policy in India and the schooling of immigrants in urban America. In the field of comparative education, his scholarship focuses on South Asia. 




How to Cite

Sobe, N. W., & Boven, D. T. (2014). Nineteenth-Century World’s Fairs as Accountability Systems: Scopic Systems, Audit Practices and Educational Data. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 22, 118.



Comparative and international history of school accountability