The circus age: culture & society under the American big top
A century ago, daily life ground to a halt when the circus rolled into town. Across America, banks closed, schools canceled classes, farmers left their fields, and factories shut down so that everyone could go to the show. In this entertaining and provocative book, Janet Davis links the flowering of the early-twentieth-century American railroad circus to such broader historical developments as the rise of big business, the breakdown of separate spheres for men and women, and the genesis of the United States' overseas empire. In the process, she casts the circus as a powerful force in consolidating the nation's identity as a modern industrial society and world power. Davis explores the multiple "shows" that took place under the big top, from scripted performances to exhibitions of laborers assembling and tearing down tents to impromptu spectacles of audiences brawling, acrobats falling, and animals rampaging. Turning Victorian notions of gender, race, and nationhood topsy-turvy, the circus brought its vision of a rapidly changing world to spectators--rural as well as urban--across the nation. Even today, Davis contends, the influence of the circus continues to resonate in popular representations of gender, race, and the wider world.
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Hillside view of show grounds at Red Wing Minn Ringling Bros 1915
Barnum Bailey bigtop interior from advertisement in route book for tent maker 1904
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acrobats Adam Forepaugh advertising African American American circus animals athletic Bailey's Baraboo Barnum & Bailey BBPCB became big top Bill Bill's Wild West boys Buffalo Bill's Buffalo Bill's Wild canvas Carl Hagenbeck cars century Chiko circus and Wild Circus Day circus owners circus women circus workers Circus World Museum City clown Cody color courtesy of Circus culture Dahlinger dress elephant ethnological congress Euroamerican exhibited female freaks gender Greatest Show horses human impresarios Indian industrial JMRMA Krao labor lady Lillian Leitzel Lithograph courtesy living Madison Square Garden male menagerie Native Americans newspaper P. T. Barnum performers permission from Ringling played players popular press agents race racial railroad circus ring Ringling Bros RLPLRC Route Book Collection season Sells Brothers sexual Show on Earth showmen sideshow social spectacle tattooed tent tion town train trainers turn-of-the-century United wagon WFCC Wild West show woman workingmen York