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At the close of the nineteenth-century, Omaha, Nebraska hosted the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition of 1898. Despite financial depression, drought, and war, the city chose to allocate its limited financial, time, and energy resources to the Exposition effort with no guarantee of success and little potential for profit. This thesis aims to make sense of this seemingly wasteful or irrational event by exploring its possible function as a costly social signal of Omaha’s qualities to potential residents, businesses, and city partners. Utilizing data from historical, geophysical, and demographic resources, this thesis assesses the Exposition as a costly signal and the degree to which this signal proved successful. In doing so, a greater understanding of the function of world’s fairs in general, and the potential of costly signaling in historical archaeology research will be determined.
Adviser: LuAnn Wandsnider