Giants, Dwarfs, and Skeletons on Display: Created Identity and the Commodified Abnormal Body in Georgian and Victorian Britain
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The compulsion to collect, view and medicalize curious anatomy was evident in the proliferation of popular anatomy museums, the formation of institutional collections of pathology and the particular of freakshows in the nineteenth-century. For living freak performers and dead pathology specimens the most lucrative and valued examples of abnormal anatomy utilized narrative literature as a marketing tool to maximize their worth as commodified display objects. Both of these exhibitory stages capitalized on the rare, “unique” nature of physical oddity, and the visceral reaction they inspired in viewers. Freakshows and pathology collections each utilized the “personal histories” of human oddities to bolster the commercial worth of collected anatomy on display. Investigation and comparison of this connection, however, has been largely overlooked by historical scholarship. My project addresses a neglected aspect of medical/freak dialogue: how created or portrayed personal “case histories” accelerated the desirability of the commodified abnormal body, living or deceased.