This study will investigate how technologies were introduced across national boundaries through performance at the fair. It will focus on the complex dynamics between show people and audience, science, magic en entertainment. Many of the technological advancements of the past 150 years were first exploited by travelling show people. In travelling fairground theatres featuring optical illusions, magicians or so-called ‘professors’ demonstrated the latest discoveries and state-of-the-art technologies such as the magic lantern, the telephone, the electric sewing machine, photography, cinema, and electricity as a ‘scientific miracle’ before being commercially exploited and settled in permanent studios or theatres. The same was true for privileged scientific instruments such as barometers, thermometers, magnifying glasses, and microscopes. The new attraction required investment, technical adjustment and often specialised personnel. The project will focus on the profession of itinerant showman marketing popular science through technological innovation.
Benner's Aeroplane, 1913. Poster by Adolph Friedländer, Theater collection UvA (Allard Pierson)