The Showman and the Slave: Race, Death, and Memory in Barnum's America

The Showman and the Slave: Race, Death, and Memory in Barnum's America

by Benjamin Reiss
     
 

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ISBN-10: 0674055640

ISBN-13: 9780674055643

Pub. Date: 03/15/2010

Publisher: Harvard

In this compelling story about one of the nineteenth century's most famous Americans, Benjamin Reiss uses P. T. Barnum's Joice Heth hoax to examine the contours of race relations in the antebellum North. Barnum's first exhibit as a showman, Heth was an elderly enslaved woman who was said to be the 161-year-old former nurse of the infant George Washington. Seizing

Overview

In this compelling story about one of the nineteenth century's most famous Americans, Benjamin Reiss uses P. T. Barnum's Joice Heth hoax to examine the contours of race relations in the antebellum North. Barnum's first exhibit as a showman, Heth was an elderly enslaved woman who was said to be the 161-year-old former nurse of the infant George Washington. Seizing upon the novelty, the newly emerging commercial press turned her act--and especially her death--into one of the first media spectacles in American history.

In piecing together the fragmentary and conflicting evidence of the event, Reiss paints a picture of people looking at history, at the human body, at social class, at slavery, at performance, at death, and always--if obliquely--at themselves. At the same time, he reveals how deeply an obsession with race penetrated different facets of American life, from public memory to private fantasy. Concluding the book is a piece of historical detective work in which Reiss attempts to solve the puzzle of Heth's real identity before she met Barnum. His search yields a tantalizing connection between early mass culture and a slave's subtle mockery of her master.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674055643
Publisher:
Harvard
Publication date:
03/15/2010
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: The Dark Subject 1

I Death and Dying

1 Possession 13

2 The Celebrated Curiosity 28

3 Private Acts, Public Memories 52

4 Sacred and Profane 71

5 Culture Wars 90

6 Love, Automata, and India Rubber 106

7 Spectacle 126

II Resurrection

8 Authenticity and Commodity 143

9 Exposure and Mastery 159

10 Erasure 183

III Life

11 A Speculative Biography 211

Note to the 2010 Printing 225

Notes 227

Index 261

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