The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition was in many ways the crowning event of the nineteenth century United States. Held in Chicago, the metropolis of the West, and visited by tens of millions of people from around the world, it showcased America’s past, present, and future. And Indigenous people were there at center stage. In Unfair Labor?: American Indians and the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago (University of Nebraska Press, 2019), David R. M. Beck, professor of Native American Studies at the University of Montana, addresses the question framed in the title: was the work done by Native people at the exposition fair? Beck goes to great lengths in answering the question and indeed, argues that there was not one single answer. Hundreds of Indigenous people from across North and South America attended the event and gave artifacts to be showcased, and the range of compensation received varied widely. Beck’s study is an entry in the burgeoning field of Native labor history, as well as a new perspective on the much-studied 1893 Chicago fair. Unfair Labor? shows that the story of Indians at the 1893 Expo was complex, dynamic, and often deeply personal.
Stephen Hausmann is an Assistant Professor of US History at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. He teaches courses on modern US history, environmental history, and Indigenous history and is currently working on his book manuscript, an environmental history of the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming.