The Great Exhibition of 1851

Digital Scholarship from English 480/580 at Oregon State University



The Great Exhibition of 1851 was a grand display of the British Empire’s influence and wealth, and the Crystal Palace in London functioned as its stage. As this massive structure, spanning approximately 990,000 square feet (“Crystal Palace”), was built for the specific purpose of the Great Exhibition, a veritable ecology of purposes, considerations, and reasons went into its architectural layout and exhibit organization. The Crystal Palace was not a shell, devoid of meaning. Instead, it was a “place…[with] a distinct character, and one that [was] determined and marked by people’s experiences” (López  96), which were influenced and guided by their environment. 

However simple this structural rhetoric may initially seem, the “spatial spectacle...mask[ed] cultural and social anxieties under a veneer of spatial and discursive ‘transparency’” (López 96). This digital humanities exhibit seeks to offer commentaries on the organization of the Great Exhibition. By presenting a select number of key objects in relation to where they were located in the Crystal Palace, exploring why countries were assigned to particular spaces in the building, and providing scholarly commentary on the potential persuasive impacts of these decisions, this project offers a critique of the Great Exhibition through the lens of spatial rhetoric.


Below, you'll find floor plans for the Crystal Palace. Based on color, you'll be able to unite the space countries were alloted, both on the same floor and between floors. By clicking on any given coutry space, an annotation box will pop up with that country's name. Click on the name and you'll find yourself directed to a page all about that country.

These country pages can also be accessed by following the "Countries" tab at the top of the page, which will allow you to browse at your leisure. A gallery of objects and illustrations is also available under the "Gallery" tab at the top of the page. Futhermore, if you'd like to explore this topic beyond the information presented here, additional resources are available under the "Further Explorations" tab, also at the top of the page.


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“Crystal Palace.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. 1999. Accessed 21 Feb. 2017.
López, Ilse Bussing. “Reading Imperialistic Space: The Crystal Palace.” Revista de Lenguas Modernas, no vol., no. 21, 2014. Accessed 21 Feb. 2017.
"Spatial Persuasions in the Crystal Palace" created by:
Colleen Boardman | Mohana Das | Adrienne Engle
Students of ENG 480/580 at Oregon State University, Winter 2017