A century ago, daily life ground to a halt when the circus rolled
into town. Across America, banks closed, schools canceled classes,
farmers left their fields, and factories shut down so that everyone
could go to the show. In this entertaining and provocative book,
Janet Davis links the flowering of the early-twentieth-century
American railroad circus to such broader historical developments as
the rise of big business, the breakdown of separate spheres for men
and women, and the genesis of the United States' overseas empire.
In the process, she casts the circus as a powerful force in
consolidating the nation's identity as a modern industrial society
and world power.
Davis explores the multiple "shows" that took place under the big
top, from scripted performances to exhibitions of laborers
assembling and tearing down tents to impromptu spectacles of
audiences brawling, acrobats falling, and animals rampaging.
Turning Victorian notions of gender, race, and nationhood
topsy-turvy, the circus brought its vision of a rapidly changing
world to spectators--rural as well as urban--across the nation.
Even today, Davis contends, the influence of the circus continues
to resonate in popular representations of gender, race, and the