This subproject will focus on the social and professional community of itinerant showpeople by analysing the networks and legal conditions of their nomadic existence in relation to the establishment of several national and international guilds and leagues, as their occupation was recognized as a profession by the end of the 19th century. The fair was their business and living space at the same time. Guidelines, tradition and family bonds controlled life behind the fair. Itinerant theatres were indeed often family businesses, and this was important for their economic viability. They were related through strong social connections and the business was passed down from generation to generation. Their nomadic existence raises questions about how they organised themselves on a practical level, what their legal status was (and how this changed) and how they were related to other families and networks in popular science and entertainment. The project will also focus on how itinerant showpeople responded to changing regional legislations on migration, social security and employment (child labour laws, boarding schools for children of showpeople, etc.).
What were the sociocultural networks in which itinerant showpeople participated? How were they related through family and professional networks and other venues where science and technology were popularised (museums, observatories, scientific societies and World Expos)? How did these networks function on a social, practical and professional level? What was the relation and the difference between large booths from established showmen-entrepreneurs or families and smaller, regional and often less fortunate street showpeople? What was the role of impresarios?
Paris Amusement Park, 1932. Poster by Adolph Friedländer, Theater collection UvA (Allard Pierson)