Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Kathleen Brosnan


The purpose of this thesis was to explore the changing perceptions of identity in relation to urbanity in Knoxville, Tennessee. The 1982 International Energy Exposition was the pivotal event in this study, a study that spanned roughly a century of Knoxville urbanization. This study was done through primary sources such as city plans, energy studies, and programs of city revitalization, restoration, and beautification. The primary sources used were then compared to traditional urban and environmental historiographies to establish a sense of where Knoxville fit in. The research revealed that Knoxville mirrored much of Southern trends in urbanization until 1982. The 1982 World's Fair represented a turning point in Knoxville's urbanization, at least in its theory. By hosting the fair, Knoxvillians hoped to capitalize on the nascent environmental movement by commodifying energy and nature. A direct response to the oil crisis of the 1970s, not to mention the struggling economy, the energy theme of the fair was an attempt to alleviate the national energy situation, while gaining recognition (and federal dollars) for the city of Knoxville. Much of the research centered upon the preceding planning of the fair, which revealed an intense conflict among the citizenry concerning the methods, motivations, and significance behind the fair. It is here that one sees two groups of elites battling over the future urban identity of their fair city. My study concluded that while the fair was a practical failure, in that it accomplished few of the goals set out, it provided a startling glimpse into how urban identities are formed. In addition, the fair also disrupted the traditional pattern of city planning, and left in its wake privatized development. This legacy is still seen in the planning for the city of Knoxville for today.

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