Presented by: Daniel J. Story, Department of History
Circuses and other traveling shows were a staple of nineteenth-century American society, but just how American were they? This project uses digital mapping together with traditional archival research to investigate the geographic reach, business networks, and cultural significance of three iconic American shows: Cooper, Bailey, and Company’s Great International; the Barnum and Bailey Circus; and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. Mapping their routes from the 1870s to the 1910s reveals how thoroughly they were embedded in global entertainment circuits—Cooper and Bailey travelled to Australia, New Zealand, India, and a handful of South American countries in the late 1870s; Buffalo Bill visited countries in Europe between 1887 and 1892 and again from 1902 to 1906; and Barnum and Bailey toured extensively in Europe from 1898 to 1902. Furthermore, in 1899, James Bailey officially relocated the headquarters of his circus to England, establishing the publically traded company Barnum and Bailey, Limited. By contrast, none of these shows travelled consistently to the west coast of the United States until 1907. Analysis of these entertainment geographies helps us rethink standard narratives of national integration in the U.S. in the second half of the nineteenth century and recasts institutions traditionally understood as quintessentially American in a transnational and global light.
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