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Review of the Human Zoo (Reposted)

  • Date Submitted: 03/21/2011 01:38 AM
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museum and society, 8(3)


Book Reviews

Pascal Blanchard, , Nicolas Bancel, Gilles Boëtsch, Éric Deroo and Sandrine Lemaire (eds), Teresa Bridgeman (trans.), Human Zoos: Science and Spectacle in the Age of Colonial Empires, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2008, paperback £19.95, pp. X+445 The study of ‘freak shows’ encompasses several fields of interest, from museum history to disability studies, and has developed an extensive English-language canon, centered on the works of individuals like Robert Bogdan and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, both of whom contributed to this collection. Based on the French volume, Zoos Humains, this edition brings together a range of divergent methodologies from history, sociology, and anthropology to examine ‘human zoos’, which represent an important combination of exhibition, performance, education, and colonial domination. While examining these displays’ prehistory and legacy, the volume’s authors focus on the heyday of anthropo-zoological exhibitions during the 19th and early-20th centuries in America and Western Europe to attempt to show the lasting impacts of these inherently ephemeral events. Across the volume’s thirty chapters, a detailed examination of the variety of ‘human zoos’ - loosely defined as placing a human on display because of what they are (any real or imagined difference) and not because of what they do (an artisan or musician, for example) - reveals the interrelationship between epistemology, ideology, and cultural form these displays embodied. Understanding these relationships highlights the impact this phenomenon had on the discourse of science, the collective image of the self versus the Other, and the motivations of the full range of actors. Furthermore, the focus on particular sites and events throughout the volume permits one to comprehend the means of popularization and how these views could be perpetuated through secondary cultural forms. Overall, this volume, and the larger project that...


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