‘Human zoos’, forgotten symbols of the colonial era, have been largely repressed in collective memory. In these ‘anthropo-zoological’ exhibitions, ‘exotic’ individuals were placed alongside wild beasts and presented behind bars or in enclosures. Human zoos were a key factor in the progressive shift from scientific to popular racism. Through Barnum’s freak shows, Hagenbeck’s ‘ethnic shows’, French-style villages nègres, as well as the great universal and colonial exhibitions, the West invented the ‘savage’, exhibited the ‘peoples of the world’, whilst in many cases preparing for or contributing to their colonisation. This first mass contact between ‘us’ and ‘them’, between the West and elsewhere, created an invisible border. Measured by scientists, exploited in shows, used in official exhibitions, these men, women and children became extras in cultures that were not their own.
Since its first publication by La Découverte in 2001, the collection entitled Zoos humains has triggered widespread debate about colonial representation and has obliged scholars in a range of disciplines to rethink the relationship between anthropology, science, spectacle and Empire. The present colloquium coincides with the publication by Liverpool University Press of a new English-language version of the collection. Based on the original French-language volume edited by ACHAC, but with a number of newly commissioned chapters, this new edition of Human Zoos brings together contributions by international specialists on this subject, some of whom will speak at the conference. The volume invites re-exploration of the colonial exoticisation and ‘spectacularisation’ of other cultures, a process that is to be associated with many contemporary, postcolonial stereotypes.
We invite offers of twenty-minute papers that (i) reflect on the impact and legacy of this unique book, (ii) analyse new work on the ‘human zoo’ that has emerged since the initial publication of Zoos humains, and/or (iii) contribute to exploration of the historical phenomenon that the volume outlines.
Please send a 300-word abstract and brief CV to firstname.lastname@example.org by Tuesday 30 September 2008.
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