Pinhead Races and the White Man’s Burden: Racial Science and the Politics of P.T. Barnum’s “What Is It?”

con-zipfreakAn Illustrated lecture with Philip Kadish
Date: Tuesday, April 17th
Time: 7:30 PM
Admission: $7 (0r $75 for admission to all Congress events; more on that here)
***Location: The Coney Island Museum, 1208 Surf Avenue
Part of The 2012 Congress of Curious Peoples
Presented by Morbid Anatomy and The Coney Island Museum

In 1860, showman P.T. Barnum began presenting a number of “pinhead” performers (persons with microcephaly, or unusually small heads) as members of newly discovered races or evolutionary missing links between apes and humans. These “pinhead race” acts were enormously popular as America stood on the brink of civil war over the issue of slavery, and as racial “science” was poised to become the foundational justification of Jim Crow segregation. Unsurprisingly, the most successful of all of these “pinhead race” acts was the “What Is It?”, an African-American microcephalic who became a public sensation, to the point of being used in political cartoons attacking President Abraham Lincoln.” This lecture is structured around a trove of amazing images including photographs, posters, advertisements, political cartoons, news illustrations, and stunningly-offensive scientific charts.

Philip Kadish is completing his PhD in American Literature at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He earned an MFA in fiction writing, and has written about the world of nineteenth century freak shows in fiction as well as scholarship.

Full lineup and more information on The 2012 Congress of Curious Peoples can be found here.

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