Mining the time-space matrix: Commemorative postage stamps and United States World’s Fairs, 1893–1915

Richard Handler


This article examines turn-of-the-twentieth-century US world’s fairs and the postage stamps that were issued in their honor. The fairs celebrated the progress of industrial civilization, in part by anchoring themselves to a historical origin point (such as Columbus’ voyages), and the post office designed the accompanying stamps to commemorate a historical story deemed to be nationally significant. Both the origin point and the history associated with it were located within a time-space matrix defined by prior processes of mapping the national territory and standardizing time reckoning within it. The commemorative stamps were sold on the fairgrounds, where they could be postmarked to locate them precisely in time and space as souvenirs of what would become past events that would have value in the future. These overlain commemorative practices reveal how the raw materials of history—time and space—have to be manipulated before the history-making practices of modern societies can even begin.


national commemoration, postage stamps, time-space matrix, world’s fairs

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau6.1.017