Remembering the Revolution
Perceptions of Independence Hall, the Declaration, and the Liberty Bell in 1876
-An Act to provide for celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of the American Independence, by holding an International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures, and products of the Soil and Mine, in the city of Philadelphia, and the State of Pennsylvania, in the year eighteen hundred and seventy-six.
                                                 -A Pennsylvania sponsored Act of Congress, 1871(1)
 
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Figure 1
Print and Picture Collection, The Free Library of Philadelphia


      In 1851, London was home to the first World's Fair in celebration of its dramatic developments in the areas of industry and technology.(2) In 1876, America would celebrate its 100th anniversary of independence, making it a logical choice for the first International Fair outside of Europe. The Civil War had ended and the economy had now been revived from a recent depression; patriotism was rising.(3) Philadelphia's Centennial Exhibition followed in the tradition of the previous international expositions by providing a great opportunity to display advancements in technology as well as a pasture for flowering concepts of civilization. However, as the Congressional Act states, the Centennial Exposition was to be a time of national celebration, remembering the events of Independence in the city which they had occurred one hundred years earlier. By examining the manners in which three artifacts are portrayed at the exposition, it is evident that the American people looked back at their history through the lens of progress.

       Many of the items at the Centennial Exposition, and the manner in which they were displayed, served not one, but actually three functions. Numerous items had a kind of practical use, a technological function. These articles also had a specific meaning and value to the creator and observer, thus they made a statement of cultural beliefs. Finally the items displayed, as well as the Exposition itself served a kind of social function that brought people of all backgrounds together. These three principals indicate that something is more than just an object, but rather an artifact. The artifacts of the Centennial Exhibition indicate many of the general attitudes and approaches that men and women had toward their past, present, and future.

    In the context of the American Revolution, three main items stand out as being important artifacts, rather than simple objects. The first is Independence Hall, which in its history had been home to many significant organizations, most notably the Second Continental Congress. This body worked for many months culminating in the official Declaration of Independence, severing all ties with the overbearing parent country, England. When this treasonous action was completed, the public was called to celebration by the State House Bell, or as it is now known, The Liberty Bell. These three objects, a building, a document, and a bell, served a technical function in 1776, but by 1876 they were icons of American civilization and great crowds traveled to see them, while they were also used to promote the celebration. Many other objects of material culture are also quite notable, yet these three each play an interesting role in the Centennial Exhibition of Philadelphia, 1876.


Introduction  Independence Hall    The Declaration of Independence The Liberty Bell    Conclusion
 
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This page was written and constructed by:
John R. Keigher
for
History 2998 "Material Culture"
Villanova University
November 1998