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The showman and the slave : race, death, and memory in Barnum's America

Author: Benjamin Reiss
Publisher: Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2001.
Edition/Format:   Print book : Biography : EnglishView all editions and formats
Database:WorldCat
Summary:
"In this compelling story about one of the nineteenth century's most famous Americans, Benjamin Reiss uses P.T. Barnum's Joice Heth hoax to examine the contours of race relations in the antebellum North. Barnum's first exhibit as a showman, Heth was an elderly enslaved woman who was said to be the 161-year-old former nurse of the infant George Washington. Seizing upon the novelty, the newly emerging commercial press
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Genre/Form: Biography
Additional Physical Format: Online version:
Reiss, Benjamin.
Showman and the slave.
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2001
(OCoLC)606612265
Named Person: P T Barnum; Joice Heth; Phineas Taylor Barnum
Material Type: Biography
Document Type: Book
All Authors / Contributors: Benjamin Reiss
ISBN: 0674006364 9780674006362
OCLC Number: 46449314
Description: x, 267 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Responsibility: Benjamin Reiss.

Abstract:

"In this compelling story about one of the nineteenth century's most famous Americans, Benjamin Reiss uses P.T. Barnum's Joice Heth hoax to examine the contours of race relations in the antebellum North. Barnum's first exhibit as a showman, Heth was an elderly enslaved woman who was said to be the 161-year-old former nurse of the infant George Washington. Seizing upon the novelty, the newly emerging commercial press turned her act - and especially her death - into one of the first media spectacles in American history."

"In placing together the fragmentary and conflicting evidence of the event, Reiss paints a picture of people looking at history, at the human body, at social class, at slavery, at performance, at death, and always - if obliquely - at themselves. At the same time, he reveals how deeply an obsession with race penetrated different facets of American life, from public memory to private fantasy. Concluding the book is a piece of historical detective work in which Reiss attempts to solve the puzzle of Heth's real identity before she met Barnum. His search yields a tantalizing connection between early mass culture and a slave's subtle mockery of her master."--Jacket.

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