Faculty Research: Janet Davis on the Circus

Circus performer, Adjie, 1899.

One of the best things about American Studies is how it enables telling histories through unexpected popular culture artifacts and experiences: baseball, toys, children’s literature – or, in this case, the circus. Dr. Janet Davis is slated to give a talk at the Historic Asolo Theater in Sarasota, Florida, on how the circus shaped the development of modern American society, and the Sarasota Herald Tribune has a lengthy feature on her work.

Here’s an excerpt:

The evolution of the circus, which first came to America in the late 1700s but was in its heyday in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, parallels growth in American society, sad Davis, whose focus is on social change rather than development of infrastructure.

Women, for example, were circus performers from the earliest days, but public perception grew and changed over the decades. The performing arts were a place “of general ill repute for women, and the circus was definitely no different,” she said.

But by 1890, female circus performers were prominently featured in the circuses’ advertising, marking “a real transformation in the public place of women in American life. It’s occurring at exactly the same time that women are becoming actively involved in reform movements in America, going to college, working in factories. It’s accompanying this general shift of American women out of the home and into public life.”

Check out the full article here!

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