The Great Exhibition of 1851

Voices of the Workshop

Voices from the workshop on the exhibition of 1851

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Voices from the Workshop is a collection of four songs written about the Great Exhibition, all of which seem to be placing the British Empire at the center of justice and innovation.

The first song, entitled “Britannia and Genius,” appears to have been written to address the concerns of the artisans from other nations, who weren’t sure if their works would be safe at the Great Exhibition. In order to convince these nations, the “Genius,” Britannia appeals to their desire for fame and recognition and ultimately provides the security they were looking for by offering them patents. In doing so Britannia saves Genius from the pirate king Mammon, who claims to be responsible for Britain’s fame and fortune. This addresses concerns about Britain’s imperial exploitation of their colonies, and the notion that Britain gained its power by stripping it from others. The song is acknowledging the fear that each nation’s greatest works will either be stolen outright, or imitated to Britain’s benefit. In response to this fear, Britain provides all of its contributors the proverbial armor of patents, thus rescuing them from the pirates and separating Mammon’s identity from that of Britain as an empire. This and promise of reward ultimately convince Genius (and Labor) to trust Britain with their goods, reshaping Britain’s identity as a nation of pirates into one of generosity and wisdom. This stands in stark contrast to the “Song of Pirates,” which is written from the perspective of the pirates themselves as they prepare for the Great Exhibition and its many wealthy contributors and patrons to arrive and open up their stores. This may serve as a cautionary note to everyone traveling to the Great Exhibition, while also continuing to separate the pirates and Britain itself into two distinct identities.

“Britannia, Genius, Justice” continues in the same vein as the first song, wherein the anthropomorphized Genius seeks the protection of a greater power... this time that of Justice, rather than Britannia. It is Britannia though who defends Genius, and encourages Justice to offer their protection by humbly giving the credit for all of Britain’s glory and wealth to its Genius... in this context, its working class, though Genius could also be a stand in for any group of people under Britain’s control. This encourages an image of Britain as a protector of the weak. Finally, Voices from the Workshop displays a National Anthem written specifically for 1851, with the Great Exhibition in mind.

By weaving together the identity of Britain as a nation with the exhibition itself, these songs seek to associate the empire with all of the innovation and wonder found within the Great Exhibition, claiming even the items and exhibits brought in from outside itself and portraying England as the center of the modern world.

Voices of the Workshop