The 1939 New York World’s Fair
: cultural diplomacy in the age of Fascism

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


Fewer than five months before the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, the world was invited to New York City to celebrate the opening of the final international exposition of the interwar period. Touted by Fair organizers as the ‘last best chance for peace,’ the 1939 New York World’s Fair offered foreign governments the opportunity to express alternative, and sometimes competing, world views alongside one another in national pavilions and exhibit halls built on reclaimed wasteland in the outer borough of Queens. While most historians continue to disregard the interwar expositions held within the United States as sites of mere amusement, obfuscation, or commercial exchange, this thesis argues that the 1939 World’s Fair can be best understood in terms of statecraft. It reads this international forum as a site of significant geopolitical negotiation and maintains particular focus on the participation of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany in order to better understand the role of, and response to, each regime’s self-stylization as global power within the post-Wilsonian order. It also assesses the overtures made to the ethnic Italian and German populations living in the greater New York City area and, in this way, takes something of a composite approach by engaging directly with scholarship from a variety of fields, methodologies, and historical traditions. Proceeding with the understanding of exposition planning, organization, and design as a critical intermediary between official diplomatic efforts and everyday people, this project relies on architectural sketches, blueprints, development plans and budgets, as well as correspondence between designers and state officials as a way to understand the politically-inflected organization of space that shaped the average fairgoer’s interaction with the representation of Fascist Italian and Nazi German interests within the United States. Beyond the official record left by diplomatic and consular officials, this project contributes analysis of previously overlooked primary source material. For example, letters from fairgoers, private photographic collections, and official reports help make sense of the effect national pavilions, exhibits, restaurants and other forms of cultural diplomacy had on local populations and visitors alike. This study relies on the holdings of more than a dozen different archives across five different countries and, like the event it covers, is dedicated to challenging current historical understandings of diplomatic boundaries and cultural borders.
Date of Award13 Jun 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorRiccardo Bavaj (Supervisor), Kate Ferris (Supervisor) & Sam Rose (Supervisor)


  • Fascism
  • Diplomacy
  • Architecture
  • Exposition
  • Nazi Germany
  • Fascist Italy
  • New Deal
  • Migration
  • Soft power
  • National identity

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 26 January 2029

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