The American circus has a unique and often overlooked importance in American history. The first American circuses began shortly after the country was founded, and as the country’s population grew, moved West, went through the Industrial Revolution, and opened its gates to the world, the circus followed. Indeed, in many cases the circus provided people’s first view of new inventions, exotic animals and peoples, and popular entertainments. The history of the circus is in many ways a microcosm of the history of America.
The Circus in America: 1793-1940 surveys the history of the American circus over a 150-year period. It promotes serious scholarly research of the significant role the circus played in the growth of American society and popular culture. Historians trace the origins of the modern circus to late eighteenth century England, but the circus reached its height as a popular art form in nineteenth and twentieth century America. But to date there is no authoritative study, integrated with digital resources, that addresses this uniquely American cultural institution.Project director Lavahn Hoh and the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities are proud to present this digital research collection, which has a critical collection of archival, library, and museum resources, as well as essays, maps, timelines, images, and videos that help contextualize and interpret these materials.