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

Noah W. Sobe, David T. Boven


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the American education exhibits mounted at Vienna (1873), Philadelphia (1876), Chicago (1893), and Paris (1900), we use historical documents connected with the preparation of exhibits as well as reports written during and after the Fairs to bring to light the curatorial principles and exhibitionary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.


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

Full Text:



Article Metrics

Metrics Loading ...

Metrics powered by PLOS ALM

Copyright (c) 2019 Noah W. Sobe, David T. Boven


Contact EPAA//AAPE at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College