What happens when Canadian citizens finally meet their fabled ‘enemy’? This is one of the questions which drives Dr. Shaw’s research project “Watching the Boer War at the St. Louis World’s Fair.”
Dr. Amy Shaw’s research focuses on the 1904 St. Louis World’s fair and its main attraction: the live re-enactment of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). The Boer War was a conflict between the two Boer States of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State against the British Empire and its colonial troops. It was also the first time that Canadian soldiers were sent to fight overseas in a foreign war.
What interests Dr. Shaw is the reaction of Canadian visitors to the spectacle. “I was fascinated when I found out that, two years after the war ended, veterans were employed to re-enact the battles from it at the St. Louis World’s Fair.” Until the live re-enactment, the only contact Canadian citizens had to the Boers were reports they received from overseas, which often described the Boers as lazy, uncivilized, and backwards. The re-enactment featured not only around sixty South African veterans, but also famous Boer generals Piet Cronje and Benjamin Vijoen. Dr. Shaw wants to understand how Canadians reacted to seeing these people, to ‘the enemy’, and how their reactions aligned with the general sentiment towards the war.
Dr. Shaw hopes her research will provide valuable insights into the “attitudes about the war itself, and the imperial and racial discourse that surrounded it.”
“I’m interested in thinking about how people have thought about duty and citizenship in wartime, and also about how various conflicts are remembered in Canadian history.”
She will be conducting her research at the Library of Congress, the St. Louis Museum of History, the Canadian War Museum, and the Library and Archives Canada.