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Defining the mega-event

Stadium crowd [10KB]

Although mega-events each have their peculiarities, they also share a number of characteristics: for example they are transient, but often of great economic and cultural significance; they employ drama and spectacle to underline and promote values of local, national or international importance, and they throw light on the societies, institutions and elites who are involved with them.

Researchers approach them from a variety of perspectives: social historians may explore early mega-events like the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the St Louis World Fair of 1904 in the context of economic and political imperialism; sociologists may examine the ways in which all such festivals are consumed, and analyse how nations and power elites project certain images through the ceremonies they engage in.

Tracing the evolution of mega-events from their earliest manifestations to the imposing examples of the modern Olympic Games can reveal some fascinating similarities. In fact, the earliest Games in the modern series shared the stage with trade festivals (for example, the World Fairs in Paris, 1900 and St Louis, 1904). A number of the publications produced by these festivals are held by the British Library, as are materials from a wide range of other early festivals. Studied in conjunction with the official Olympic Games reports - many of which contain exhaustive detail about the planning carried out by the host city we can learn a lot about the beliefs and ambitions these events hold in common. A selection of such materials are listed in the mega-events bibliography.

The illustration shows the title page of the Olympic Games programme at the St Louis exposition of 1904 which was also combined with ‘world’s championship contests’. As this publication shows, the St Louis Olympics were distinguished by a ‘world’s Olympic lecture course’ which dealt with such social science topics as ‘The influence of manly sports on peoples’ and ‘The moral phase of athletics’.

Getting started with the British Library's collections

See the mega-events bibliography for resources held here.