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The American Circus, edited by Susan Weber, Kenneth L. Ames, and Matthew Wittmann

Susan Weber, Kenneth L. Ames, and Matthew Wittmann, editors
“Beautifully illustrated, informative, and engaging.” — Glenn C. Altschuler, Philadelphia Inquirer

Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2013 in the Theater & Dance Category.

 The circus is a source of nostalgia for Americans of all ages, either from memories of attending P. T. Barnum's "Greatest Show on Earth," or through the colorful evocations in many movies, television programs, and books. Interest in the circus phenomenon is unflagging, yet there have been few publications that look closely at how the circus's European origins were refashioned for an American audience. Lavishly illustrated and carefully researched, this volume explores how American culture, values, demography, and business practices altered the fundamental nature of the European circus, and how, by the end of the 19th century, they had transformed it into a distinctly American pastime.

At the peak of its cultural significance, the circus was a sophisticated combination of theater and business, and made effective use of advertising, train travel, and hyperbole. The subjects in The American Circus reflect this complexity, ranging widely from thematic explorations of circus music and elephants to more closely focused studies of objects such as circus toys, souvenirs, and performers' costumes. The book also explores the dark and even nefarious side of the circus, and its associations with marginalized dimensions of American life and culture. With contributions from leading scholars, this stylishly designed volume aims to identify the salient features of an Americanized cultural product and to analyze its appeal for American audiences.

Table of Contents

About the Contributors

Kenneth L. Ames

The Circus Americanized
Janet M. Davis

The Transnational History of the Early American Circus
Matthew Whitman

The American Circus in Victorian Britain
Brenda Assael

American Circus Posters
Paul Stirton

Shelburne Museum's Colchester Posters and Circus Advertising
Kory W. Rogers

The Circus Parade
Gregory J. Renoff

Circus Music in America
Leon Botstein

The American Circus Tent
Fred Dahlinger, Jr.

Elephants and the American Circus
Susan Nance

Horses and Cat Acts in the Early American Circus
Brett Mizelle

Performed Identitites as Circus Illusions
Peta Tait

The Americanization of the Circus Clown
Rodney Huey

The American Circus Spectacle
Jennifer Lemmer Posey

The Circus in Nineteenth-Century American Children's Literature
Ellen Butler Donovan

Circus Toys in the Gilded Age
Eugene W. Metcalf

The WPA Circus in New York
Susan Weber

Disability and the Circus
Rachel Adams



Photo Credits



Rachel Adams
Professor of English and American Studies at Columbia University

Kenneth L. Ames
Professor at the Bard Graduate Center

Brenda Assael
Lecturer in Modern British History at Swansea University in the United Kingdom

Leon Botstein
President of Bard College

Fred Dahlinger Jr.
Curator of Circus History at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art

Janet M. Davis
Associate Professor of American Studies, History, and Women's and Gender Studies at the University of Texas at Austin

Ellen Butler Donovan
Professor of English at Middle Tennessee State University

Rodney Huey
Editor of The International Guide to the Circus

Eugene W. Metcalf
Professor of American and interdisciplinary studies at Miami University, Ohio

Brett Mizelle
Professor of History and the Director of the American Studies Program at California State University, Long Beach

Susan Nance
Historian of Communication and Live Entertainment

Jennifer Lemmer Posey
Assistant Curator at the Circus Museum with the John and Mable ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida

Gregory J. Renoff
Associate Professor of History at Drury University

Kory W. Rogers
Curator of Design Arts at the Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont

Paul Stirton
Associate Professor at the Bard Graduate Center

Peta Tait
Professor of Theatre and Drama at La Trobe University, Australia

Susan Weber
Founder and Director of the Bard Graduate Center

Matthew Wittman
Curatorial Fellow at the Bard Gradutate Center

5.20 LBS

Other Details


10.9 x 8.8 x 1.7 inches

Page count
472 pages, 327 color illustrations

Publication date
September 2012

Paper over board