In recent decades the cultural underpinnings of the European integration process have attracted more in-depth attention as scholars have unpacked the European Community’s efforts to stimulate the process of cultural Europeanisation. My research builds on the literature underlining the importance of political symbolism in the consolidation of the Community. I argue that international exhibitions, traditionally understood as diplomatic theatres for the display of symbolic nationhood, fulfilled a similar function for the European Community. This thesis is the first comprehensive study of an important platform for the discursive legitimation of the Community: namely, the European Community’s pavilions in Universal Expositions. More specifically, it examines Europe’s contributions to the Expos in Brussels in 1958, Montreal in 1967, Seville in 1992 and Shanghai in 2010.
My thesis is based on research carried out in over a dozen archives in Europe and Canada, as well as oral history interviews with the European officials, architects and designers involved in developing the pavilions and curating the exhibitions. The chapters dealing with the four case studies analyse the preparations that preceded the Expos, and the products of these negotiations. I reveal that the exhibitions included narratives on the Community as both a modernising force in Europe and a protector and promoter of European culture. Furthermore, I illustrate how the Community pavilions argued for a stronger global position for Europe, whilst spreading an image of the Community’s positive influence throughout the world. I use a visual methodology which leans heavily on the analysis of sources such as photographs of the pavilions and exhibition displays, videos and brochures. By focusing on the discursive legitimation strategies in the Community’s Expo participation, this thesis sheds new light on the history of European cultural policy and public diplomacy.