American Studies
American Studies

Dr. Janet Davis Op-Ed at the Smithsonian

Wed, March 22, 2017
Dr. Janet Davis Op-Ed at the Smithsonian
Dr. Janet Davis

Congratulations to Dr. Janet Davis, who this week had a short history of the Ringiing Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus published by Zócalo Public Square, which was then picked up by the Smithsonian. We've included an excerpt, below.

"When Barnum and Bailey’s 'Greatest Show on Earth' rolled into American towns in the 1880s, daily life abruptly stopped. Months before the show arrived, an advance team saturated the surrounding region with brilliantly colored lithographs of the extraordinary: elephants, bearded ladies, clowns, tigers, acrobats and trick riders.

On 'Circus Day,' huge crowds gathered to observe the predawn arrival of “herds and droves” of camels, zebras, and other exotic animals—the spoils of European colonialism. Families witnessed the raising of a tented city across nine acres, and a morning parade that made its way down Main Street, advertising the circus as a wondrous array of captivating performers and beasts from around the world.

For isolated American audiences, the sprawling circus collapsed the entire globe into a pungent, thrilling, educational sensorium of sound, smell and color, right outside their doorsteps. What townspeople couldn't have recognized, however, was that their beloved Big Top was also fast becoming a projection of American culture and power. The American three-ring circus came of age at precisely the same historical moment as the U.S. itself.

Three-ring circuses like Barnum and Bailey's were a product of the same Gilded Age historical forces that transformed a fledgling new republic into a modern industrial society and rising world power. The extraordinary success of the giant three-ring circus gave rise to other forms of exportable American giantism, such as amusement parks, department stores, and shopping malls."

It's been a busy few months for Dr. Davis, who earlier this year published an op-ed on CNN.com. You can read it here.

 

Bookmark and Share