“A New and Curious Route to Cairo” – World’s Fairs and the Stereotyping of the Middle East (1851–1893)

Author: Holly O’Farrell, University of Limerick, Ireland
Email: holly.ofarrell@ul.ie
Published: April 4, 2020

Citation: O’Farrell, H. (2020). “A New and Curious Route to Cairo” – World’s Fairs and the Stereotyping of the Middle East (1851–1893). IAFOR Journal of Cultural Studies, 5(1). https://doi.org/10.22492/ijcs.5.1.04


This paper looks at the exhibiting of Middle Eastern cultures in the World’s Fairs of the nineteenth century, focusing mainly on the representation of the culture and people through staged scenes purportedly imitating real life. The Middle Eastern pavilions and streets at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris, along with those of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, are looked at for their tendency to portray an image of the Middle East which was loaded with Orientalist stereotypes. Such stereotypes were often driven by imperialist and Western supremacist notions which were wrapped up in moralistic pretentions. The framing of the Middle East as a place which was in decline, barbaric and lacking the ethical makeup of Western Christianity became an important feature of these exhibitions. The presentation of Middle Eastern women at the World’s Fairs and the reactions to their performances reveals popular beliefs about the Orient which continued from traditional Orientalist texts and paintings. The portrayal of the region during these Fairs can be seen to have contributed to at least some of the stereotyping of the region which carries on into the twenty-first century.


world’s fairs, Middle East, Orientalism, morality, gender, Imperialism