Eventos Académicos, 39 ISCHE. Educación y emancipación

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Transnationalizing American Progressivism and Emancipation: Frances B. Johnston at the 1900 Paris Universal Exposition(
Sebastien-Akira Alix

Última modificación: 2017-07-16


At the 1900 Paris World’s Fair, Frances Benjamin Johnston, one of America’s first women photographers, played a key-role in publicizing in Europe American progressivism and emancipation in education. Through displaying numerous photographs taken in the Washington, D.C. public schools and at Booker T. Washington’s Hampton Institute, she revealed to the French and international audience how American progressive reformers were aiming at providing a freer, more child-centered and democratic education to children in the public schools as well as to offer African-American and American-Indian students an education that would ultimately allow them to emancipate from white tutelage. Johnston also played a key-role in promoting the photographic art of her feminine colleagues in the U.S. at the International Congress of Photography held from July 23 to 28 1900 in conjunction with the Universal Exposition. Such pioneering effort to disclose these accomplishments was met with considerable interest and laudatory comments from French officials and school professionals. In this regard, in 1905, the French government conferred upon Johnston the decoration of the “Palmes académiques” in recognition of the excellence of her work exhibited at the Paris exposition of 1900 and the value of her services as United States delegate to the International Congress of Photography.

Being a prominent character in American photography at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, Johnston’s life and work have long aroused the interest of French and American historians of art and women. More specifically, her photographic art and work pertaining to the International Congress of Photography and the “American Negro” exhibit are now well documented in the historiography. However, her role in publicizing progressive education’s ideals and emancipatory dimensions remain an understudied and yet important topic in order to analyze the transnationalizing of American progressivism in education. Using archival and primary sources from the French government and the 1900 Paris World’s Fair, this talk analyzes the diffusion and reception of Frances B. Johnston’s photographical work displayed at the 1900 Universal Exposition in France. It thus aims at highlighting the ways in which photography was used by Johnston and other progressive reformers as a powerful medium to document, spread and propagandize American reform effort in education across the Atlantic.