Mireille Lee, assistant professor of history of art, will present a paper entitled “Classical Sculpture and Eugenics at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco” at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America held January 6-9 in San Francisco.
Her paper analyzes the use of classical sculpture and classicizing imagery in the display of the Race Betterment Foundation at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco, which is celebrating its centenary this year. Lee describes the profusion of classicizing imagery on the exterior and interior of the Race Betterment booth, among the most popular displays of the exhibition, as clearly illustrating the goals of eugenics.
Elsewhere in the exhibition, the imagery of the classical past was consciously employed to create a vision of a new, utopian future. Classicizing buildings and sculptures permeated the fairgrounds. The official fair poster featured Hercules excavating the Panama Canal as his “thirteenth labor.” All these images were intended to create “a beautiful, idyllic past, present, and future for the still-young state of California,” Lee writes, “and to hide the ugly realities of racism and forced sterilization that were suffered by many.”
In addition to presenting her paper, Lee will serve as a respondent for a colloquium on dress in the ancient Mediterranean. She has published widely on the social functions of dress in ancient Greece, including her monograph Body, Dress, and Identity in Ancient Greece (Cambridge University Press, 2015).
*Perham Wilhelm Nahl (1869-1935). The Thirteenth Labor of Hercules, prize-winning poster for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco