Introduction: Exhibiting Freaks

Nadja Durbach

in Spectacle of Deformity

Published by University of California Press

Published in print October 2009 | ISBN: 9780520257689
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520944893 | DOI:
Introduction: Exhibiting Freaks

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)


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This introductory chapter first sets out the purpose of the book, which is to argue that freak shows should not be dismissed as merely marginal, exploitative, or voyeuristic forms of entertainment. In fact, displays of freakery were critical sites for popular and professional debates about the meanings attached to bodily difference. The book focuses on Britain from the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century. This is in part because it was here and during this moment of “taxonomic frenzy” that the European freak show arguably reached its apotheosis. The discussion then turns to the freak show and commercialized leisure, the freak show and the body, and the medicalization of monstrosity.

Keywords: freak shows; Britain; commercialized leisure; body

Chapter.  12858 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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