This week, Dr. Susan Nance's research on historical circus elephants is featured on the Research Matters blog, sponsored by the Council of Ontario Universities.
After more than a century of parading in pink tutus with dogs balancing on their backs, elephants in the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s circus are preparing to take their final bow. By 2018, the star performers will retire from the spotlight to live out their lives in an elephant conservation centre.
These days, fewer and fewer circuses use elephants and their stage exit mirrors the public’s increased empathy toward these animals. But studying their heyday as performers reveals important insights about their audience, in other words, about us as consumer of entertainment.
Enter Susan Nance, an associate professor of U.S. history at the University of Guelph whose research concentrates on entertainment, from vaudeville to street performers. Her interest in circus elephants was piqued after she uncovered “shocking things that circus historians don’t like to talk about,” says Nance, who set out to change the way historians look at animals. ... read the rest of the blog