Barnum and Ethnic Display

Publication Date


Document Type



Theatre and Dance


Ann Haugo

Mentor Department

Theatre and Dance


In a recent musical film The Greatest Showman, the life of P.T Barnum, the father of modern circus, is seen. This research will examine Barnum's representation of people of color historically, in what scholars call "ethnic display," including his relationship with these characters and how he affects their lives. In the film, Barnum makes use of people discriminated against by the society. He recruits a variety of "weird" characters that he makes complete use of. In the film, each character has something "special" to contribute and this adds to the spectacle of the show. Barnum makes these "freaks" or disabled or people of color feel they really belong to a world that they can contribute something to; he makes them feel special. However, the research will go further to compare the depiction of Barnum in the film with the known facts about Barnum's career, including his influence on the practice of ethnic display in his period. To effectively carry out this study, resources from the Circus and Allied Arts Collection will be utilized.



This document is currently not available here.