Preferred Name

Ryan Bachman

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Date of Graduation

Spring 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of History


J. Chris Arndt

Gabrielle Lanier

Steven Reich


In the early nineteenth century, a new form of human exhibitionism spread through eastern American cities. While public displays featuring live human beings had existed since the colonial era, these new shows specifically focused on Native Americans. This paper examines one such show, the Inuit Exhibition of 1820-1821, as a case study of this phenomena. Primarily through the use of contemporary newspaper accounts, this project argues that shows like the Inuit Exhibition occurred within a cultural context that legitimized the practice of human exhibitionism as a genuine, post-Enlightenment method of educating citizens about the natural world. Furthermore, so-called “Indian Exhibitions” were not popular solely for their novel content, but also appealed to contemporary middle class concerns about social changes brought about by the market revolution, such as increased foreign and domestic trade, the growth of cities, and early industrialization. Objectified, supposedly “primitive” Native Americans, such as the Inuit, served as symbols that simultaneously celebrated, and cautioned against, notions of “progress” in the Early Republic.



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