Peopling the landscape: Showmen, displayed peoples and travel illustration in nineteenth-century Britain

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Throughout the nineteenth century, millions of people paid to see exhibitions of foreign, often colonized, peoples performing songs, dances and other ceremonies in exhibitions designed to showcase their 'singular nature'. Originally consisting of a single performer or possibly a small group, by the end of the century displayed peoples were being imported in their hundreds to live in purpose-built 'native villages' under the aegis of world fairs. Significantly, performers were marketed as exemplars through the use of theatrical scenery, often drawn from travel literature, to geographically locate them in their homelands. By considering how travel literature and theatrical performances were combined in order to create new visual experiences, it is possible to reconstruct how such shows were both advertised and interpreted, and to shed light on practices of broader significance for understanding nineteenth-century visual culture.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-36
Number of pages14
JournalEarly Popular Visual Culture
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012


  • exhibitions, Displayed peoples, race, travel literature, theatrical scenery