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The Human Zoo: Science’s Dirty Secret

30 Mar 2016 by admin in Documentary, Flicks

The Human Zoo Science’s Dirty Little Secret Human zoos were 19th and 20th century public exhibits of people – mostly non-Europeans. Africans, Asians, Indigenous people and many others were often caged and displayed in a makeshift ‘natural habitat’. These human displays were very popular and shown at world fairs where they drew Europeans and Americans in their tens of millions – from Paris to Hamburg, London to New York, Moscow to Barcelona. This curiosity regarding indigenous races had a history at least as long as colonialism and Columbus brought indigenous Americans from his voyages in the New World to the Spanish court in 1493. Human zoos and exhibitions of exotic populations became common in the 1870s in the midst of the New Imperialism period. They could be found in many places including Hamburg, Antwerp, Barcelona, London, Milan, New York, and Warsaw, and hundreds of thousands of people visited these exhibitions. Some notable European exhibitions… In 1874, Carl Hagenbeck, a German merchant in wild animals and entrepreneur of many Europeans zoos, decided to exhibit Samoan and Sami people (Laplanders) as ‘purely natural’ populations. In 1876, he sent a collaborator to the Egyptian Sudan to bring back some wild beasts and Nubian people. The Nubian exhibit was very successful in Europe and toured Paris, London, and Berlin. He also dispatched an agent to Labrador to secure a number of ‘Esquimaux’ (Inuit) from the settlement of Hopedale; these Inuit were exhibited in his Hamburg Tierpark. Geoffroy de Saint-Hilaire, director of the Jardin d’acclimatation, decided in 1877 to organize two ethnological spectacles that presented Nubians and Inuit. That year, the audience of the Jardin d’acclimatation doubled to one million. Between 1877 and 1912, approximately thirty ethnological exhibitions were presented at the Jardin zoologique d’acclimatation. Native people of Suriname were displayed in the International Colonial and Export Exhibition in Amsterdam held behind the Rijksmuseum in 1883. Both the 1878 and the 1889 Parisian World Fairs presented a Negro Village (village nègre). Visited by 28 million people, the 1889 World Fair displayed 400 indigenous people as the major attraction. The 1900 World Fair presented the famous diorama living in Madagascar, while the Colonial Exhibitions in Marseilles (1906 and 1922) and in Paris (1907 and 1931) also displayed human beings in cages, often nude or semi-nude. The 1931 exhibition in Paris was so successful that 34 million people attended it in six months, while a smaller counter-exhibition entitled The Truth on the Colonies, organized by the Communist Party, attracted very few visitors.

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