Cover: The Showman and the Slave: Race, Death, and Memory in Barnum’s America, from Harvard University PressCover: The Showman and the Slave in PAPERBACK

The Showman and the Slave

Race, Death, and Memory in Barnum’s America

Product Details

PAPERBACK

$31.00 • £26.95 • €28.95

ISBN 9780674055643

Publication Date: 03/15/2010

Short

288 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

12 halftones

World

Add to Cart

Media Requests:

Related Subjects

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 piecing 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.

Recent News

Black lives matter. Black voices matter. A statement from HUP »

From Our Blog

Composite photograph showing (top) entrance to the Prudential Center in Boston and (bottom) an internal construction partition/wall printed with the words 'Opening Day 2023' and other decorative text

A New Chapter for Harvard Book Store

Starting in the summer of 2023, for the first time in almost thirty years, Harvard Book Store will have two locations: the flagship store in Harvard Square, and a large new store in the Prudential Center in Boston. For University Press Week we wanted to show some bookseller love, so we reached out to Rachel Cass, General Manager of the Harvard Book Store, to see what’s planned for their exciting new location