Beyond the pavilions of the four major Belgian cities, there was a group of halls in which the exhibitions of a scientific nature were installed, namely the classes of Education, Social Economy, Civil Engineering and Military Art.
As we cannot describe everything, we will limit ourselves to what was most significant and what was a real novelty! In this respect, we would like to mention the exhibition organised by Mr Léon Beckers on the Scheldt Region and a glimpse of the Military Diorama, which evoked historical episodes. In addition, the Social Economy compartment will provide us with the opportunity to give a diagram of the various facilities that the Ministry of Industry and Labour had established for the administrations of its Department.
To make Flanders known, or more precisely the Scheldt region, with the help of characteristic documentation selected from the collections of the State and of private individuals, archaeologists or folklorists, such was the aim that Mr. G. Beckers, Director General at the Ministry of Science and Arts, had set himself and his eminent collaborators, when he was entrusted with the organisation of the Belgian section of Higher Education and Sciences at the Ghent Exhibition.
The idea was a good one, but at the same time a bold one, as the programme was vast and the space available was parsimoniously calculated. The success of the project was the result of a well thought-out and methodical plan.
Starting from primitive times and ending in 1815, the documentary history of Flanders, grouped in a circular room, was divided into nine sections, corresponding to the nine periods: Neolithic, metal, Roman, Frankish, feudal and feudal-communal, Burgundian, Spanish, Austrian and French. Each of the periods was also represented, as far as possible, by collections relating to the main social phenomena: economic, family, aesthetic, ideological, legal, political and moral. Around the room, the division of the sections was marked by the flags of the cities of Ghent, Bruges and Ypres, the Flemish maritime ensign, the Burgundian banner and that of Flanders under Spanish rule, the Austrian flag and the flag of the Brabant Revolution; they symbolised the history of Flanders; the variety of their colours cast a festive and cheerful note on the whole.
In the centre of each section, a wall map showed visitors the development of the region through the various historical periods. This series of nine maps was an unprecedented piece of scientific work; improvements could probably be added to it, especially as a result of archaeological discoveries; however, in the current state of science, the whole thing was well done. The authors of this important contribution to the Ghent Exhibition were Messrs Rutot, Rahir, Jansens, Jos. Maertens, Vlaminck and de Saegher, under the direction of Mr. Beckers. It is to be hoped that their initiative will be extended to the Meuse and Sambre regions. This second album would complete the geographical, geological, archaeological and economic history of Belgium from prehistoric times to the present.
To recall this admirable documentation completely, it would be necessary to copy the excellent catalogue published under the title La Flandre des origines à 1815 by M. Beckers and with the assistance of MM. Pirenne, the general archivist J. Cuvelier, Baron A. de Loë, A. Rutot and C. Jansens. To summarise such a study would be to deflate it; its extent makes it impossible to reproduce it in this Golden Book. Unfortunately, it will suffice for us to record here the high value of the undertaking due to the initiative of Mr. Beckers and the great success it has had in scientific circles.
The Ministry of Industry and Labour, which has, among other tasks, that of carrying out studies and preparatory work for the organisation of the participation of our fellow citizens in industrial and commercial exhibitions abroad and in the country, has always given its support to these exhibitions by participating directly in them and by facilitating access to these large national and international fairs for the numerous institutions and various organisations under its jurisdiction.
Has our social legislation produced all the results expected by the legislator? In what way have individual or collective initiatives collaborated in the execution of our numerous workers' laws? The Ministry of Industry and Labour periodically provides this information in publications which unfortunately are only read by a few specialists. Aware of the ignorance of the great mass, this department understood the necessity of organising special compartments in our exhibitions where the general public could see in statistical tables, diagrams, reports, etc. the results obtained by our various social laws. This was done at the Ghent Exhibition, and three administrations belonging to the Ministry of Industry and Labour collaborated more especially in different classes.
I. - The Administration of Industrial and Vocational Education showed in class VI by means of graphs and reports, the constant progression of the number and the school population of industrial, vocational and domestic schools and of apprenticeship workshops in our country. Up to now, no organic law has come to regulate technical education, as it has for primary, middle and higher education. The State leaves it to local initiatives, whether public or private, to create schools and to draw up the curriculum and timetable. The Department of Industry and Labour shall provide subsidies for the installation and running costs; approved schools shall be subject to State inspection.
II. - The purpose of the Office des métiers et négoces, which replaced the Office des classes moyennes in 1907, is to study questions relating to the middle classes and the means of developing the spirit of economic and professional association among small industrialists, small traders and workers: to promote the creation of cooperative production or credit associations, to show the necessity of rational apprenticeship, to help it by granting apprenticeship scholarships, and finally to endeavour to make known to small industry the numerous advantages of modern tools and to intervene, if necessary, by granting a subsidy for the purchase of small tools.
The tables, views, diagrams, machines, etc. presented by the Office des métiers et négoces and by numerous trade unions and professional associations have shown that the small bourgeoisie would benefit from a better understanding of the importance and usefulness of the measures advocated by this office.
III. - The Labour Office collaborated in a remarkable way in the success of the Social Economy Section; various diagrams showed the development of the workers' professional unions; more than fifty unions and federations of unions presented the results of their activity in numerous reports and tables. The documentation and conclusions of the investigation carried out by the competent service of the Labour Office on the situation of cooperative societies in Belgium were also made available to the public. In addition, some twenty consumer cooperatives, including the most important ones, showed, by means of various diagrams, the progressive progress of their business.
The Office also exhibited statistical tables and various publications relating to labour exchanges and unemployment funds.
By means of tables, photograph albums and stereoscopic views, the Labour Inspectorate presented the means recommended by this administration to prevent accidents and to develop the health and safety of workers. The annual reports made available to the public and the diagrams on display showed the results obtained by the various laws relating to the regulation of work.
The Labour Office's provident institutions exhibited diagrams and documents concerning insurance for sickness, premature invalidity and old age. The system of subsidised freedom is fulfilling all the hopes of our legislators and builders.
There is not enough space to expand on the participation of the Ministry of Industry and Labour in the Ghent Exhibition. The few details given will suffice to give an idea of the results achieved by this department in the various fields of its sphere of action.
©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition Universelle & Internationale de Gand 1913