My research examines the relationship between 19th century curiosities and narratives (particularly wonder tales, hoaxes, and legends) in the United States with a focus on a period from about 1840-1880.
During this period, a variety of narratives (lore) were woven into the collection, display, and marketing of curiosities. These narratives, both literary and physical, masked larger issues and gave the American public the opportunity to negotiate through newly emerging issues of class, gender, race, industrialization, science, and education. I am particularly interested in how displays of humans and automata represent folklore motifs and tale types within the context of the exhibit.
The intersection between spectator (observation) and display (performance) can also be seen through the examination of displays such as the Panorama, Diorama, Wunderkammern, and projected images such as the Magic Lantern (Laterna Magica).
I’m fascinated by the ways in which folklorists and other scholars have examined the spectacle, the monstrous, wonder, prodigies, teratology, etc. particularly in folk narratives. I examine how the interaction with folklore material and the marvelous is intertwined with displays and exhibitions and how various scholars have attempted to interpret the “marvelous”, “uncanny”, “wonderous”, etc. My research remains rooted in folklore, but may find itself, at times, extending beyond the periphery of standard anonymous records of oral tales, and into literature, ephemera (chapbooks, advertisements, etc.) and popular culture (plays, exhibits, etc.).
I am interested in how folk narratives, particularly the “marvelous,” becomes embedded in literary works and manifests in various shapes throughout 19th century popular American culture and how scholars, in general, have treated this material. The study of folklore and the marvelous has been examined from many different academic directions. Anthropology, Psychology, English, and History are a few of the many fields that have taken interest in this subject. It is important for my study to understand where these disciplines intersect (and diverge) on issues of wonder and folk narrative, and to consider how they may potentially direct my research in various directions.
Early scholars of the marvelous studied popular antiquities and belief legends, but in recent times, professional folklorists began studying legends. The legend scholars (and those who studied popular antiquities) have treated the topic of the spectacle and wonder with the most valuable contributions to my research, simply because the notion of the spectacle as display was often advertised as a (literal) legendary being.
Museum formation and popular amusements in the 19th century are closely linked as they rely on education to entice the public. Early freakshows of the 1830’s and 1840’s were essentially a form of a “traveling museum.” By the 1850’s, humans were displayed as scientific specimens, often to provide legitimacy to theories of racism. The acceptance of anthropology as a discipline in the 1880’s, led to an intellectual shift, which permitted expositions to focus on human display. Barnum’s Ethnological Congress of Barbarous and Savage Tribes, for example, reflected this shift and used anthropology and science as legitimizing factors to attract the public. Near the end of the 19th century, World’s Fairs and expositions held in America were calculated attempts at demonstrating Darwinian theory.
Forthcoming 2017. “The Living Marvelous: Motif Ostension in the 19th century in the United States” Psycho-Cultural Analysis of Folklore.
Review of Frank J. Korom, South Asian Folklore: A Handbook 103. Western Folklore Vol. 68, No. 1. Winter, 2009
“Like Dogs Barking at the Rear of an Elephant: The Animal’s Place in Malay Proverbs” Proverbium vol. 25 (Oct. 2008)
“Popular American Amusements: Tourism, Bodies, and Display in America 1769-1900” The Early America Review (Winter/Spring 2008)
“Kancil the Trickster: A Vehicle for Expression in the Malay World” M.A. Thesis, University of California Berkeley, 2005.
29 Days in Peru, Self Published, 2002
Presenter, Conjoined Histories: Race, Disability, & Popular Performance in the 19th Century. University of California, Berkeley, 2011. “Living Narratives: Chang and Eng as Folk Motifs”
Presenter, Western States Folklore Society Annual Meeting, University of California, Berkeley, 2006, “The Kancil Trickster as a Vehicle for Expression in the Malay World”
Presenter, American Folklore Society Annual Meeting, Atlanta Georgia 2005, “The ‘Secret’ (Censored) Animal Tales of Russia and the Malay World: How Two Cognates Function in Two Very Different Lands”
Presenter, American Folklore Society Annual Meeting, Salt Lake City Utah 2004, “The Kancil Trickster as a Vehicle for Expression in the Malay World”