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Sevilla Expo '92

The Universal Exposition of Sevilla in 1992 signified a before and after not only for the historic city of Sevilla, but for all of Spain. From April 20th to October 12th, Sevilla was transformed into the home of the exhibits of 112 countries, all of the autonomous communities of Spain, and dozens of international organizations. The Expo, whose theme “Discoveries” marked the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage to America, received more than 20,000,000 visitors in six months. Today, the remains of the Fair house a multitude of businesses, recreation centers, and the popular theme park Isla Mágica.


The fair materialized in 1976 when Spain’s King Juan Carlos I officially announced his desire to organize a world’s fair to help showcase the advances of his country, which was undergoing radical political, economic, and social transformations. The Spanish nation suffered through a dictatorship of about forty years from 1939 to 1975 under General Francisco Franco who held a firm grip of the people and kept the country suppressed. Franco sought to justify his dictatorship in the eyes of Western Europe by claiming 'Spain is different!' Flamenco became the symbol for a land of sun and soul, an exotic, distinctive experience for the foreigner, the land of Don Juan and Don Quixote. With the death of Franco in 1975 came the establishment of a constitutional monarchy and the dawn of a new era of liberty and progress. By the time the Expo became a reality in 1992, Spain’s gross national product had risen from eightieth to eighth in the world in less than twenty years. The fair rightfully reflected Spain’s new position in the global community.

Because the Expo commemorated the discovery of the Americas, North and South American countries faced pressure to present extraordinary pavilions. Despite the much anticipated participation of the United States (for its importance within the theme of the fair and because it held the largest plot of land for its pavilion), its project was under-developed, under-funded, and under-appreciated. Crowds and the press gave it poor reviews. My father attended the Sevilla Expo and still has photographs as well as the passport given to visitors who could have them stamped at each pavilion. He has said that he didn’t even bother going to see the U.S. Pavilion because he had read in the papers it wasn’t worth seeing; there were too many other wonderful exhibitions. According to a 2004 New York Times article, “since the end of the cold war, the United States has given world's fairs the cold shoulder. In 1992, when Spain marked the 500th anniversary of Columbus's voyage with a huge fair in Seville, the State Department erected a tentlike structure that it had in storage. In 2000, the U.S. sat out the Hannover, Germany, exposition, which 181 countries attended.” In 1999, Congress banned federal financing of world's fairs. However, backed by major corporations, the U.S. participated at the first major expo of the 21st century in Aichi, Japan in 2005. Thom Filicia, one of the designers of the exhibit said, “The U.S. is a product I believe in. And with America's image suffering abroad we could use a world's fair every month” (http://fredbernstein.com/articles/display.asp?id=76).

I’d like to explore the reasons behind the disappointing presence of the United States in recent world’s fairs, specifically in 1992 when the theme directly involved our nation. I would also like to look at the American pavilion itself, what it represented, and how people approached it, interacted with it, and felt about it. I think I could find a more narrowed focus the deeper I search. I have found that the archive for the 1992 U.S. Pavilion is at the Department of State in Washington, D.C. so I can visit it in person to find my information.

Initial Bibliography

Aguilar Fernández, Paloma and Carsten Humleback. “Collective Memory and National Identity in the Spanish Democracy: The Legacies of Francoism and the Civil War.” History and Memory 14 (2002): 121-164.

Bernstein, Fred. “Design Diplomacy: U.S. Rejoins World's Fairs.” The New York Times. 5 November 2004. Articles by Fred Bernstein. 9 October 2007. http://fredbernstein.com/articles/display.asp?id=76

Double, Mary Beth. "Expo '92 in Seville marks 500th anniversary of Columbus' discovery - also includes a related article on Expo '92 contacts". Business America. 28 August 1989. FindArticles.com. 9 October 2007. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1052/is_n17_v110/ai_7887321

“ExpoMuseum.” Expo ’92. 2003. 9 October 2007. http://expomuseum.com/1992s/

Fabricio, Roberto. “Largest world’s fair ever overwhelms with sights – and prices.” The Buffalo News. 9 August 1992. Newsbank. 9 October 2007.
http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=BN&p_theme=bn&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&p_topdoc=1&p_text_direct-0=0EAF9633341ADBD9&p_field_direct-0=document_id&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&s_trackval=GooglePM

Harvey, Penelope. Hybrids of Modernity: anthropology, the nation state and the universal exhibition. New York: Routledge, 1996.

Herr, Richard and John H.R. Polt. Iberian Identity. Berkeley: Institute of International studies, 1989.

Kaufman, Jonathan. “Money constraints leave us with modest showing at Expo ’92.” The Boston Globe. 20 April 1992. Newsbank. 9 October 2007. http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=BG&p_theme=bg&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&p_topdoc=1&p_text_direct-0=0EADDFD00EBDF811&p_field_direct-0=document_id&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&s_trackval=GooglePM

"Last world's fair of millenium showcases U.S. enterprise - United States pavilion in the Seville Expo '92 - Spain: 1992 and Beyond". Business America. 26 August 26 1991. FindArticles.com. 9 October 2007. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1052/is_n17_v112/ai_11204884

Masey, Jack. “The ugly American pavilion at Expo ’92, the U.S. built a monumental embarrassment.” The Washington Post. 7 June 1992. 9 October 2007.
http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/washingtonpost/access/74027415.html?dids=74027415:74027415&FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=JUN+07%2C+1992&author=Jack+Masey&pub=The+Washington+Post&desc=The+Ugly+American+Pavilion%3B+At+Expo+'92%2C+the+U.S.+Built+a+Monumental+Embarrassment&pqatl=google

Riding, Alan. “Impressions of Expo ’92.” The New York Times. 3 May 1992. 9 October 2007. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0CE7DA1738F930A35756C0A964958260

Riding, Alan. “Seville Journal; Picture a U.S. Pavilion (Better Late Than Never).” The New York Times, 18 May 1991. 9 October 2007.
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D0CE7DC153DF93BA25756C0A967958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=print

Schnedler, Jack. “U.S. Pavilion looks better than critics feared.” Chicago Sun Times. 19 April 1992. 9 October 2007. http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=CSTB&p_theme=cstb&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&p_topdoc=1&p_text_direct-0=0EB373AA904138F8&p_field_direct-0=document_id&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&s_trackval=GooglePM

Torrecilla, Jesús. “The modernization of the exotic images of Spain.” Anales de la Literatura Española Contemporanea 26 (2001): 337-356.

“U.S. Pavilion at Seville Merits a Second Look.” The New York Times. 22 February 1992. Letter to the Editor. 9 October 2007. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0CE2DA1E3AF931A15751C0A964958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=print
“Web de la Exposición de Sevilla 1992.” Expo ’92, 2000. 9 October, 2007. http://www.terra.es/personal/aranburo/historia.htm