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The Politics of Soviet Self-Representation: Soviet Cultural Diplomacy at the 1925 and 1937 Paris World's Fairs. Open Access


Other title
Soviet Union
Cultural diplomacy
International Expositions
World's Fair
World's Fairs
International Exposition
Paris International Exposition
International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts
Exposition internationale des Arts décoratifs et industriels modernes
Paris Exposition 1925
Paris Exposition 1937
Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne
International Exposition of Arts and Techniques in Modern Life
Melnikov, Konstantin
Iofan, Boris
Socialist Realism
Mukhina, Vera
Foreign policy
Soviet foreign policy
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Smith, Bradley
Supervisor and department
Coleman, Heather (History and Classics)
Examining committee member and department
Coleman, Heather (History and Classics)
Mouré, Kenneth (History and Classics)
Boone, Betsy (Art and Design)
Department of History and Classics
Date accepted
Graduation date
2016-06:Fall 2016
Master of Arts
Degree level
Participation at the 1925 and 1937 Paris International Expositions offered the USSR two unique opportunities to present carefully constructed and multifaceted images of the Soviet Union, its peoples and culture to massive foreign audiences in the context of World's Fairs. The collection of writings, artworks, images, industrial products and other artefacts displayed at each Exposition worked together to form a set of narratives about Soviet life and culture aimed at shifting foreign conceptions of the socialist state and accomplishing foreign policy aims. In this way, these expositions functioned as instances of cultural diplomacy. This thesis comparatively examines Soviet participation at the 1925 and 1937 Paris expositions in order to understand how the USSR used international expositions as a specific medium of cultural diplomacy. It focuses upon the construction and reception of Soviet narratives of self-representation. For each Paris exposition, the USSR created crafted images of its state and peoples in response to a number of factors, including Party leadership, the development of culture, industry and agriculture, global politics, Soviet foreign policy aims and Franco-Soviet relations. Thus, narratives constructed for each Exposition were steeped in a particular national and international context. As the 1925 Exposition offered the Soviets their first opportunity to showcase the developing socialist state, self-representation at the first Expo focused upon introducing French visitors to the USSR and correcting foreign misconceptions. In turn, the Soviet exhibits in 1937 celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the October Revolution and emphasized progress and achievements in arts, industry and agriculture. At each Exposition, a combination of written and visual means was used to communicate a set of ideas to fairgoers. By separately assessing written and visual sources, this study shows how the Soviets employed a variety of strategies in constructing narratives about themselves. Further, assessing these categories separately demonstrates how written and visual narratives expressed communicated different ideas related to the same themes. Although the written and visual components of the Soviet exhibit in 1925 were generally complementary, in 1937 some aspects of the Soviet display expressed ideas in tension with the framing texts. Some aspects of the pavilion and its contents placed increased emphasis upon Soviet leadership, and others altered the theme of peace by suggesting Soviet military preparedness. The final section examines responses to the two pavilions, showing that the exhibits were not always interpreted as the organizers intended. The Soviet exhibit in 1925 received a mixture of praise and condemnation. Many visitors and reviewers felt that the folk art displayed within did not match the revolutionary exterior of Konstantin Melnikov's pavilion. In turn, the reception and interpretation of the Soviet pavilion in 1937 shows how influential the experience and preconceptions of the viewer are in the process of interpretation. The vast majority of responses considered the Soviet display in relation to the German one that was located just opposite. The placement of the two pavilions inspired many visitors to interpret them in terms of a confrontation between socialism and Nazism, thus altering the narratives constructed in each exhibit. The comparative study of Soviet participation at these two Expositions shows the uses and limitations of the World's Fair as a medium of cultural diplomacy. Although these exhibits introduced large foreign audiences to the peoples, life and culture of the USSR, the organizers could not fully control how the displays were interpreted.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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