The Freak Show in American Life
One of the most popular forms of live entertainment in the nineteenth-century United States was the freak show: the exhibition of a large group of people with unusual bodies, skills, or cultural backgrounds, who performed on a stage in front of a large paying audience. From the 1840s to the 1920s, Americans from all across the country—from San Francisco to New York City, from the working class to wealthy elites—attended freak shows with a sense of awe, excited to see performers ranging from The Tattooed Lady to the The Living Chinese Family. In contrast to the later twentieth and twenty-first centuries, in their heyday these performances were viewed as wholesome, family-friendly, and socially-sanctioned entertainment—an opportunity to learn about the world and its wonders without traveling far from home. The immense popularity of the freak show as an institution of both pleasure and education thus provides us with a window onto the ideals, values, and prejudices of nineteenth-century Americans.
Our Guest of Honor: Sarah Gold McBride is a Lecturer in American Studies at UC Berkeley. She is a co-founder of the Teaching History Conference, and serves as the Executive Director of the Western Association of Women Historians. Dr. Gold McBride’s first book, Whiskerology, which examines the meaning of hair in nineteenth-century America, is under contract with Harvard University Press.
Our Virtual History Happy Hour series aims to bring a little bit of history home to you. Our guest speakers will preset a brief presentation, followed by an informal Q and A chat. Bring your own drink! Whether a glass of wine or a cup of tea, we look forward to (virtually) gathering with you and raising our glasses to history!
There is no charge for the event but you must register in advance. After registering you will receive an email with instructions for accessing the webinar.