In 1884, the Imperial Maritime Customs Agency of China shipped a massive installation of objects to New Orleans for display in the “New Orleans Exposition.” The theme of the exposition—one of many World’s Fairs in the late 19th century—was textiles. The Chinese exhibition included hundreds of sewn garments, fabric samples, textile-making tools, and raw materials. It also included furniture, ceramics, and decorative objects from across China: some 4000 objects in all. As the exhibition drew to an end, the customs agency did not wish to pay the cost of shipping exhibition back to China. Institutions around the country vied for the collection. The University of Michigan was the winner, helped by President James Angell’s recent appointment as U.S. Emissary to China. The collection was exhibited in the 1881 University Museum and was transferred to the Museum of Anthropology when it opened in 1922. Today, it is the only largely intact early World’s Fair collection from China still in existence.
In honor of the University of Michigan’s 2017 bicentennial, we are celebrating the remarkable archaeological and ethnographic collections and rich legacy of research and teaching at the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology by posting one entry a day for 200 days. The entries will highlight objects from the collections, museum personalities, and UMMAA expeditions. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology is also posting each day for 200 days on Twitter and Facebook (follow along at #KMA200). After the last post, an exhibition on two centuries of archaeology at U-M opens at the Kelsey. Visit the exhibit—a joint project of the UMMAA and the Kelsey—from October 18, 2017 to May 27, 2018.