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Art Modern (late 19th Century To 1945)

“The Spanish Element in Our Nationality”

Spain and America at the World's Fairs and Centennial Celebrations, 1876-1915

by (author) M. Elizabeth Boone

Penn State University Press
Initial publish date
Dec 2019
Modern (late 19th Century to 1945), European, 19th Century, Spain & Portugal
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Dec 2019
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“The Spanish Element in Our Nationality” delves beneath the traditional “English-only” narrative of U.S. history, using Spain’s participation in a series of international exhibitions to illuminate more fully the close and contested relationship between these two countries.

Written histories invariably record the Spanish financing of Columbus’s historic voyage of 1492, but few consider Spain’s continuing influence on the development of U.S. national identity. In this book, M. Elizabeth Boone investigates the reasons for this problematic memory gap by chronicling a series of Spanish displays at international fairs. Studying the exhibition of paintings, the construction of ephemeral architectural space, and other manifestations of visual culture, Boone examines how Spain sought to position itself as a contributor to U.S. national identity, and how the United States—in comparison to other nations in North and South America—subverted and ignored Spain’s messages, making it possible to marginalize and ultimately obscure Spain’s relevance to the history of the United States.

Bringing attention to the rich and understudied history of Spanish artistic production in the United States, “The Spanish Element in Our Nationality” recovers the “Spanishness” of U.S. national identity and explores the means by which Americans from Santiago to San Diego used exhibitions of Spanish art and history to mold their own modern self-image.

About the author

M. Elizabeth Boone is Professor of the History of Art, Design and Visual Culture at the University of Alberta. She is the author of Vistas de España: American Views of Art and Life in Spain, 1860–1914.

M. Elizabeth Boone's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“Pioneering in every respect, this handsomely-illustrated volume offers unique insights into the extent to which political circumstances, combined with long-standing racial and religious prejudices, frustrated Spain’s campaign for recognition of the artistic and creative genius of its people at various world’s fairs. The volume is a must for anyone interested in Spain’s modern history along with those concerned with attitudes towards the place of both Spanish and Hispanic culture in the United States.”

—Richard L. Kagan, author of Urban Images of the Hispanic World, 1493–1793

The Spanish Element in Our Nationality is a welcome contribution during an important historical moment, when the US relationship to its Hispanic heritage and present-day culture is being reconfigured. July 29, 2020, marked the establishment of the National Museum of the American Latino with the approval of the US Congress, as part of the omnibus spending bill. Drawing on the visual culture of the nineteenth-century World’s Fairs, Boone’s book puts in perspective the historical origins of the tension between the US and its Spanish roots.”

—Maria Dorofeeva, Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide

The Spanish Element in Our Nationality mines a wealth of visual and textual evidence from the later 19th and early 20th century world’s fairs in order to convincingly demonstrate Spain’s marginalization in the construction of an American identity that leaned more heavily toward England. While well-versed in theoretical approaches to its subject and detailed in unraveling the complexities of Spain’s reception at world’s fairs, Boone’s book remains grounded in a careful examination of the fine arts and material culture, and how the visual arts functioned politically in an international context.”

—David Raizman, coeditor of Expanding Nationalisms at World Fairs: Identity, Diversity and Exchange, 1851-1915

‘The Spanish Element in Our Nationality’ is a must-read revisionist project of great urgency for Americanists, Latin Americanists, and Iberianists who wish to better understand the interconnectedness of their cultural histories and to shape more inclusive scholarship.”

—Alba Campo Rosillo, Winterthur Portfolio

“This book offers the interested reader an excellent gateway to think visual cultures in dialogue with the objective of the nations at the time of the composition of collections that synthesized national imageries and, at the same time, to discover which elements were included and excluded in the consolidation of those canons. From my perspective, it is, in turn, a contribution to think the construction of national patrimony in a way that is more dynamic and attentive to quite different elements and actors.”

—Paula Bruno, Tapuya

“Special attention is devoted to Spanish art in the 19th century—presented through remarkable plates and photographs—including paintings, architectural displays, and rare materials.”

—N. Greene, Choice

“A meticulously researched and engagingly written account of the genesis, the promotion, and also the avoidance of Spanish identity and culture, including in Spain’s former colonies. This impressive book is a major contribution to transnational cultural studies, demonstrating Boone’s deep and nuanced command of Spanish, Latin American, and U.S. art and culture.”

—Barbara Brinson Curiel, Humboldt State University

“With ‘The Spanish Element in Our Nationality,’ M. Elizabeth Boone confirms her role as the leading interpreter of the complex interactions between the United States and Spain as revealed in the visual arts. This thoroughly researched analysis of key international expositions held between 1876 and 1915 demonstrates the nuances of these trans-Atlantic relations and provides insight into Hispanic/Latinx identity and presence in the United States over a century later.”

—Katherine Manthorne, editor of California Mexicana: Missions to Murals, 1820–1930

“[The Spanish Element in Our Nationality] is an informative work and a mustread for individuals interested in art history, world’s fairs, immigration to the United States, and US-Spanish-Latin American relations at the turn of the twentieth century.”

—Gregg French, RACAR: Canadian Art Review

“This book is groundbreaking and an important tool in helping us all get a richer, more complete, and much more realistic view of the Spanish past and contributions to making the United States what it was to become.”

—David M. Sokol, Journal of American Culture

“[“The Spanish Element in Our Nationality”] illuminates American ideological objectives in the representation of national pasts through international and commemorative fairs and, perhaps more importantly, invites us to be alert to other ways and moments in which the United States shares a history and aesthetics with Spanish and Latinx cultures.”

—Alisa Luxenberg, Bulletin of the Comediantes

“A wonderfully detailed investigation of the shaping of Spain’s national-ethnic identity through several key international exhibitions with art in the United States and Latin America. Drawing upon unpublished archival sources, the engaging study analyzes the strategies of, and the international stakes for administrators, statespersons, and critics from different nations. This book offers readers an indispensable understanding of the politics of display in the creation and reception of these exhibitions.”

—Oscar E. Vázquez, author of The End Again: Degeneration and Visual Culture in Modern Spain