E pluribus Barnum

E pluribus Barnum
University of Minnesota Press
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October 10th, 2011

The first book to consider the career of P. T. Barnum from a cultural studies perspective.

Phineas Taylor Barnum lived from 1810 until 1891, and in the eighty-one years of his life he created show business as we know it. In E Pluribus Barnum, Bluford Adams investigates the influence Barnum had on American popular culture of the nineteenth century, and expands our understanding of the ways he continues to influence us today.

Beginning with a discussion of Barnum's early shows, Adams demonstrates the dynamic interplay between Barnum'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 theater are examined, as well as the later circuses.

Adams relates the rise of Barnum to the emergence of a new U.S. society, one riven by conflicts over slavery, feminism, immigration, and capitalism, and considers his career as a crucial moment in the on-going struggle over the politics of U.S. commercial entertainments.

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