Tuesday, December 16, 2008

American And English Popular Entertainment

Punch and Judy, drawn by F. Barnard, from the "Puppets" folder of the Art, Music & Recreation Center picture file

Nowadays information seekers have become accustomed to a world where they can enter a few words into a search engine and be greeted with, and perhaps overwhelmed by, waves of information. In addition to the content created for the web, full texts of magazines and books are also available to search and read online.

In the days prior to the internet and online databases students, scholars and librarians relied upon bibliographies to locate information on a topic. Bibliography was a valued pursuit because it could make information available about obscure but valuable areas of study and research. Bibliographies were often annotated, i.e., provided a summary of the works reviewed and their value.

This blog will occasionally introduce bibliographies that remain valuable because they open up information that cannot yet be located online, or because they provide an avenue of access that is more careful and systematic than online sources. One such source is American and English Popular Entertainment: A Guide to Information Sources by Don B. Wilmeth (Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1980)--volume 7 of Gale’s Performing Arts Information Guide series.

Popular entertainment in this volume comprises activities like circuses, fairs, carnivals, variety and minstrel shows, puppetry, panoramas and dioramas. This annotated bibliography includes books and articles, both scholarly and popular. Circus here comprises various animal acts and performance specialists including clowns. Works on carnivals include P.T. Barnum’s shows, various sorts of side and freak shows, dime arcades, and wax museums. Another section lists books and articles about amusement parks, roller coasters, merry-go-rounds. Other forms of entertainment covered in this bibliography include medicine shows, vaudeville, and magic shows.

The book also includes a helpful index that can lead to information about individual performers, places, and theaters. There are also references to more general topics like censorship, farce, impersonation, melodrama, and quackery. Fascinating sources indexed in this volume include articles detailing the relationship between the art of the Hudson River School and panorama painters, the “Yankee” as a character type on the stage, and the classification of circus techniques.

The author concedes that his book is not exhaustive. But since his entries are annotated it is possible to understand the value of each title and the author’s criteria for their selection.

No comments: