Carl Hagenbeck's Empire of Entertainments

Eric Ames. Carl Hagenbeck's Empire of Entertainments. University of Washington: 2008.

The name of Carl Hagenbeck is as evocative in Europe as that of P. T. Barnum or Walt Disney in North America. Hagenbeck was the nineteenth century's foremost animal trader and ethnographic showman, known for his enormously popular displays of people, animals, and artifacts gathered from all corners of the globe. The culmination of Hagenbeck's commercial ventures was the opening of his Tierpark near Hamburg in 1907, a dazzling assemblage of constructed exotic environments inhabited by humans and animals.

Eric Ames shows that Hagenbeck's various enterprises illustrate a significant evolution in popular culture. Earlier display forms that relied on the collection and presentation of "authentic" artifacts and living beings - the panorama, the zoological garden, the ethnographic collection - gave rise to the self-consciously synthetic forms of entertainment that we now associate with theme parks and films. This shift took place in the context of Hagenbeck's exhibitions, which were simultaneously the apotheosis of the collecting impulse and the germinating source for the creation of fictional spaces that rely for their effect on the spectator's imaginative engagement and interaction with the spectacle.

Carl Hagenbeck's Empire of Entertainments locates Hagenbeck's myriad enterprises in the context of colonialism and nascent globalization; ethnography and anthropology; zoological gardens and international expositions; museum culture and visual spectacle; and consumerism and immersive entertainments. By tracing out the divergent lineages of themed environments, Ames offers a vivid reconstruction of the impulses and contradictions that lay behind the visual and display culture of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries - a culture that forms the foundation of contemporary themed environments.

Written in an accessible style with many wonderful images, this book draws on meticulous archival research and a wealth of primary sources not available in English. It is an original and entertaining interdisciplinary study that will appeal to readers interested in visual culture, popular culture, nineteenth-century German history, and film studies, as well as anyone intrigued by the history of such popular entertainments as zoos, museums, panoramas, world's fairs, cinema, theme parks, anthropological exhibitions, and Wild West Shows.

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