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Contested Exhibitions: The Debate over Proper Animal Sights in Post-Revolutionary America

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image of Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology

Animal exhibitions served as a crucial site in which Americans struggled to come to terms with their post-revolutionary society. This essay analyzes those debates over proper ways of seeing animals in the early republic that reveal an emerging distinction between legitimate and problematic displays of animals, between exhibitions of exotic creatures that provided "instructive amusement" and those animal acts that did not. While this distinction was, in actuality, seldom clear, this effort to define what types of animal exhibitions were acceptable both reflected and helped to produce the modern divide between humans as subjects and animals as objects. It also reveals other significant transformations in American culture, including the segmentation of American audiences, the division of culture into high and low, and the place of ideas about animals in defining the citizen and the nation.


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