E Pluribus Barnum: The Great Showman and the Making of U.S. Popular Culture by Bluford Adams
Phineas Taylor Barnum lived from 1810 until 1891. This study investigates the influence he had on American popular culture of the 19th century and looks at how he continues to have an influence today. Beginning with a discussion of Barnum's early shows, the author demonstrates the dynamic interplay between the showman's increasingly respectable aspirations for his entertainments and his active cultivation of middle-class sensibilities in his audiences. In his discussion of the 1850-51 concert tour of the Swedish nightingale Jenny Lind, Adams explores the role played by women's rights and class issues in Barnum's management of these concerts. Barnum's American museum and the moral dramas presented in its theatre (which included a play of Uncle Tom's Cabin) are examined in the context of debates over slavery and temperance. The later circuses are discussed in terms of their racial exhibitions and their use, through pageantry, of orientalism and other racial spectacles. Adams creates a portrait of a nation seeking to establish an identity, and clarifies the connections between that search and Barnum's response to and creation of discussions of such central issues as class, race, ethnicity, and gender.