Culture & History Digital Journal, Vol 2, No 2 (2013)

Human Zoos or Ethnic Shows? Essence and contingency in Living Ethnological Exhibitons

Luis A. Sánchez-Gómez
Facultad de Geografía e Historia, Universidad Complutense, Spain


The aim of this article is to study the living ethnological exhibitions. The main feature of these multiform varieties of public show, which became widespread in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Europe and the United States, was the live presence of individuals who were considered “primitive”. Whilst these native peoples sometimes gave demonstrations of their skills or produced manufactures for the audience, more often their role was simply as exhibits, to display their bodies and gestures, their different and singular condition. In this article, the three main forms of modern ethnic show (commercial, colonial and missionary) will be presented, together with a warning about the inadequacy of categorising all such spectacles under the label of “human zoos”, a term which has become common in both academic and media circles in recent years.


Anthropological Exhibitions; Colonial Exhibitions; Colonialism; Christian Missions; Racism; Exoticism; Ethnography; Völkerschauen

Full Text:



Abbattista, Guido and Labanca, Nicola (2008) "Living ethnological and colonial exhibitions in liberal and fascist Italy". In Human Zoos. Science and spectacle in the age of colonial empires, edited by Blanchard, P. et al., Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, pp. 341–352.

Ageron, Charles-Robert (1984) "L'Exposition Coloniale de 1931: Mythe républicaine ou mythe impérial?" In Les lieux de mémoire, edited by Nora, Pierre, Gallimard, Paris, I, pp. 561–591.

Ames, Eric (2008) Carl Hagenbeck's Empire of Entertainments. University of Washington Press, Washington.

Anderson, Christopher J. (2006) "The world is our parish: remembering the 1919 Protestant missionary fair". International Bulletin of Missionary Research (October) ...-a0153692261. [accessed 11/October/2013]

Arnold, Stefan (1995) "Propaganda mit Menschen aus Übersee. Kolonialausstellungen in Deutschland 1896 bis 1940". In Kolonialausstellungen. Begegnungen mit Afrika?, edited by Debusmann, Robert and Riesz, János, IKO-Verlag fu.r interkulturelle Kommunikation, Frankfurt, pp. 1–24.

Báez, Christian and Mason, Peter (2006) Zoológicos humanos: Fotografías de fueguinos y mapuche en el Jardin d'Acclimatation de París, siglo XIX. Pehuén Editores, Providencia, Santiago.

Bancel, Nicolas; Blanchard, P.; Böetsch, G.; Derro, É. and Lemaire, S. (editors), (2002) Zoos humains. De la Vénus hottentote aux reality shows (XIXe et XXe siècles). Éditions La Decouverte, Paris.

Bancel, Nicolas; Blanchard, P.; Böetsch, G.; Derro, É. and Lemaire, S. (editors), (2004) Zoos humains. Au temps des exhibitions humains. Éditions La Découverte, Paris.

Bergougniou, Jean-Michel; Clignet, Rémi and David, Philippe (2001) "Villages noirs" et autres visiteurs africains et malgaches en France et en Europe (1870–1940). Éditions Karthala, Paris.

Blanchard, Pascal; Bancel, N.; Boëtsch, G.; Deroo, E.; Lemaire, S. and Forsdick, Ch. (editors), (2008), Human Zoos. Science and spectacle in the age of colonial empires. Liverpool University Press, Liverpool.

Blanchard, Pascal; Bancel, N.; Boëtsch, G.; Deroo, E. and Lemaire, S. (editors), (2011), Zoos humains et exhibitions coloniales. 150 ans d'inventions de l'Autre. La Découverte, Paris.

Blanchard, Pascal; Boëtsch, Gilles and Snoep, Nanette J. (editors), (2011) Exhibitions. L'invention du sauvage. Actes Sud and Musée du Quai Branly, Paris.

Blanchard, Pascal; Bancel, N.; Boëtsch, G.; Deroo, E. and Lemaire, S. (editors), (2012) MenschenZoos. Schaufenster der Unmenschlichkeit. Les éditions du Crieur Public, Hamburg.

Blanckaert, Claude (2002) "Spectacles ethniques et culture de masse au temps des colonies". Revue d'Histoire des Sciences Humaines, 7: 223–232.

Blévis, Laure et al. (editors), (2008) 1931: Les étrangers au temps de l'Exposition coloniale. Editions Gallimard and Cité nationale de l'histoire de l'inmigration, Paris. Bloembergen, Marieke (2006) Colonial Spectacles: The Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies at the World Exhibitions, 1880–1931. Singapore University Press, Singapore.

Bottaro, Mario (1984) Genova 1892 e le celebrazione colombiane. Francesco Pirella Editore, Genoa.

Cantor, Geoffrey (2011) Religion and the Great Exhibition of 1851. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Cheang, Sarah (2006–07) "Our Missionary Wembley: China, Local Community and the British Missionary Empire, 1901–1924". East Asian History, 32–33: 177–198.

Considine, John J. (1925) The Vatican Mission Exposition: A Window on the World. The MacMillan Company, New York.

Coombes, Annie E. (1994) Reinventing Africa: Museums, Material Culture and Popular Imagination. Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

Cornelis, Sabine (2005) "Le colonisateur satisfait, ou le Conggo représenté en Belgique (1897–1958)". In La mémoire du Congo. Le temps colonial, edited by Vellut, J-L, Musée Royal de l'Afrique centrale, Éditions Snoeck, Tervuren and Gand, pp. 159–169.

Coutancier, Benoît and Barthe, Christine (1995) "Au Jardin d'Acclimatation: représentations de l'autre (1877–1890)". In L'Autre et Nous: "Scènes et Types". Anthropologues et historiens devant les représentations des populations colonisées, des "ethnies", des "tribus" et des "races" depuis les conquêtes coloniales, edited by Blanchard, Pascal; Blanchoin, S.; Bancel, N.; Böetsch, G. and Gerbeau, H., SYROS and ACHAC, Paris, pp. 145–150.

David, Philippe (n.d.) 55 ans d'exhibitions zoo-ethnologiques au Jardin d'Acclimatation. Available at [accessed 24/July/2012]

Delhalle, Philippe (1985) "Convaincre par le fait: Les expositions universelles en tant qu'instruments de la propagande coloniale belge". In Zaïre. Cent ans de regards belges 1885–1985, Coopération pour l'Education et la Culture, Brussels, pp. 41–45.

Dore, Gianni (1992) "Ideologia coloniale e senso comune etnografico nella mostra delle terre italiane d'oltremare". In L'Africa in vetrina: Storie di musei e di esposizioni coloniali in Italia, edited by Labanca, N., Pagus, Paese, pp. 47–65.

Dreesbach, Anne (2005) Gezähmte Wilde. Die Zurschaustellung "exotischer" Menschen in Deutschland 1870–1940. Campus Verlag, Frankfurt and New York.

Exposition Coloniale (2006) L'Exposition Coloniale. 75 ans après, regards sur l'Exposition Coloniale de 1931. Paris, Mairie de Paris 12e. Available at [accessed 8/November/2006].

Geppert, Alexander C. T. (2010) Fleeting Cities: Imperial Expositions in Fin-de-Siècle Europe. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke.

Guardiola, Juan (2006) El imaginario colonial. Fotografía en Filipinas durante el periodo espa-ol 1860–1898. Barcelona, National Museum of the Philippines, Sociedad Estatal para la Acción Cultural Exterior de Espa-a, Casa Asia

Halen, Pierre (1995) "La représentation du Congo à l'Exposition Universelle de Bruxelles (1958). A propos d'une désignation identitaire". In Kolonialausstellungen. Begegnungen mit Afrika?, edited by Debusmann, Robert and Riesz, János, IKO-Verlag für interkulturelle Kommunikation, Frankfurt, pp. 75–102.

Hasinoff, Erin L. (2011) Faith in Objects. American Missionary Expositions in the Early Twentieth Century. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

Heyden, Ulrich van der (2002) "Die Kolonial- und die Transvaal-Ausstellung 1896/97". In Kolonialmetropole Berlin. Eine Spurensuche, edited by Heyden, U. van der and Zeller, J., Berlin Edition, Berlin, pp. 135–142.

Hodeir, Catherine and Pierre, Michel (1991) 1931. La mémoire du siècle. L'Exposition Coloniale. Éditions Complexe, Brussels.

Jennings, Eric T. (2005) "Visions and Representations of the French Empire". The Journal of Modern History, 77: 701–721.

Kasson, Joy S. (2000) Buffalo Bill's Wild West: Celebrity, Memory, and Popular History. Hill and Wang, New York.

Kivelitz, Christoph (1999) Die Propagandaausstellung in europäischen Diktaturen. Konfrontation und Vergleich: Nationalsozialismus, italienischer Faschismus und UdSSR der Stalinzeit. Verlag Dr. Dieter Winkler, Bochum.

Klös, Ursula (2000) "Völkerschauen im Zoo Berlin zwischen 1878 und 1952". Bongo. Beiträge sur Tiergärtnerei und Jahresberichte aus dem Zoo Berlin, 30: 33–82.

Kosok, Lisa und Jamin, Mathilde (editors), (1992) Viel Vergnügen. Öffentliche Lustbarkeiten im Ruhrgebiet der Jahrhundertwende. Eine Ausstellung des Ruhrlandmuseums der Stadt Essen, 25. Oktober 1992 bis 12. April 1993. Ruhrlandmuseums der Stadt Essen, Essen.

Kramer, Paul A. (1999) "Making concessions: race and empire revisited at the Philippine Exposition, St. Louis, 1901–1905". Radical History Review, 73: 74–114.

Küster, Bärbel (2006) "Zwischen Ästhetik, Politik und Ethnographie: Die Präsentation des Belgischen Kongo auf der Weltausstellung Brüssel Tervuren 1897". In Die Schau des Fremden: Ausstellungskonzepte zwischen Kunst, Kommerz und Wissenschaft, edited by Grewe, Cordula, Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart, pp. 95–118.

Lebovics, Herman (2008) "The Zoos of the Exposition Coloniale Internationale, Paris 1931". In Human Zoos. Science and spectacle in the age of colonial empires, edited by P. Blanchard et al. Liverpool University Press, liverpool, pp. 369–376.

Lemaire, Sandrine; Blanchard, P.; Bancel, N.; Boëtsch, G. and Deroo, E. (editors), (2003) Zoo umani. Dalla Venere ottentota ai reality show. Ombre corte, Verona.

L'Estoile, Benoît de (2007) Le gout des autres. De l'Exposition Coloniale aux arts premiers. Flammarion, Paris.

Lewerenz, Susann (2006) Die Deutsche Afrika-Schau (1935–1940): Rassismus, Kolonialrevisionismus und postkoloniale Auseinandersetzungen im nationalsozialistischen Deutschland. Peter Lang, Frankfurt.

Leymarie, Michel (2009) "Les pavillons coloniaux à l'Exposition franco-britannique de 1908". Synergies Royaume-Uni et Irlande, 2: 69–79.

Liauzu, Claude (2005) "Les historiens saisis par les guerres de mémoires coloniales", Revue d'histoire moderne et contemporaine, 52 (4bis): 99–109.

Lutz, Hartmut (editor), (2005) The Diary of Abraham Ulrikab. Text and Context. University of Ottawa Press, Ottawa.

Mabire, Jean-Christophe (editor), (2000) L'Exposition Universelle de 1900. L'Harmattan, Paris.

Mackenzie, John M. (2008) "The Imperial Exhibitions of Great Britain". In Human Zoos. Science and spectacle in the age of colonial empires, edited by Blanchard, P. et al., Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, pp. 259–268.

Mason, Peter (2001) The Live of Images. Reaktion Books, London.

Mathur, Saloni (2000) "Living Ethnological Exhibits: The Case of 1886". Cultural Anthropology, 15 (4): 492–524.

McLean, Ian (2012) "Reinventing the Savage". Third Text, 26 (5): 599–613.

Minder, Patrick (2008) "Human Zoos in Switzerland". In Human Zoos. Science and spectacle in the age of colonial empires, edited by Blanchard, P. et al., Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, pp. 328–340.

Möhle, Heiko (n.d.) "Betreuung, Erfassung, Kontrolle - Afrikaner in Deutschland und die 'Deutsche Gesellschaft für Eingeborenenkunde' (1884–1945)". berliner-postkolonial. Available at martin-luther-strasse-97&catid=20:tempelhof-schoeneberg [accessed 10/October/2012].

Morton, Patricia A. (2000) Hybrid modernities: architecture and representation at the 1931 Colonial Exposition, Paris. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Ma.

Nagel, Stefan (2010) Schaubuden. Geschichte und Erscheinungsformen. Münster. Available at [accessed 29/April/2010].

Nanta, Arnaud (2011) "Les expositions coloniales et la hiérarchie des peuples dans le Japon moderne". In Zoos humains et exhibitions coloniales. 150 ans d'inventions de l'Autre, edited by Blanchard, P. et al., La Découverte, Paris, pp. 373–384.

Palermo, Lynn E. (2003) "Identity under construction: Representing the colonies at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889". In The color of liberty: Histories of race in France edited by Peabody, Sue and Tyler, Stovall, Duke University Press, Durham, pp. 285–300.

Parezo, Nancy J. and Fowler, Don D. (2007) Anthropology Goes to the Fair: The 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London.

Parsons, Thad (2010) [Review of] "Pascal Blanchard, Nicolas Bancel, Gilles Boëtsch, Éric Deroo and Sandrine Lemaire (eds), Teresa Bridgeman (trans.), Human Zoos: Science and Spectacle in the Age of Colonial Empires, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2008, paperback £19.95, pp. X+445." Museum and Society, 8 (3): 215–216. Available at [accesed 11/October/2013].

Perrone, Michele (n.d.) "Esposizione Italo-Americana Genova 1892. Celebrativa del IV centenario della scoperta dell' America". Available at [accessed 26/October/2007].

Qureshi, Sadiah (2011) Peoples on Parade: Exhibitions, Empire, and Anthropology in Nineteenth-century Britain. Chicago University Press, Chicago.

Richter, Roland (1995) "Die erste Deutsche Kolonialsusstellung 1896. Der 'Amtliche Bericht' in historischer Perspektive". In Kolonialausstellungen. Begegnungen mit Afrika?, edited by Debusmann, Robert and Riesz, János, IKO-Verlag fu.r interkulturelle Kommunikation, Frankfurt, pp. 25–42.

Rydell, Robert W. (1984) All the world's a fair: visions of Empire at American International Expositions, 1876–1916. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Rydell, Robert W. (1993) World of fairs. The century-of-progress expositions. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Rydell, Robert W.; Findling, J. E. and Pelle, K. D. (2000) Fair America: World's fairs in the United States. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington DC.

Sánchez-Arteaga, Juanma and El-Hani, Charbel Ni-o (2010) "Physical anthropology and the description of the 'savage' in the Brazilian Anthropological Exhibition of 1882". História, Ciências, Saúde – Manguinhos, 17 (2): 399–414.

Sánchez-Gómez, Luis Á. (2003) Un imperio en la vitrina: el colonialismo espa-ol en el Pacífico y la Exposición de Filipinas de 1887. Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid.

Sánchez-Gómez, Luis Á. (2006) "Martirologio, etnología y espectáculo: la Exposición Misional Espa-ola de Barcelona (1929–1930)". Revista de Dialectología y Tradiciones Populares, LXI (1): 63–102.

Sánchez-Gómez, Luis Á. (2007) "Por la Etnología hacia Dios: la Exposición Misional Vaticana de 1925", Revista de Dialectología y Tradiciones Populares, LXII (2): 63–107.

Sánchez-Gómez, Luis Á. (2009) "Imperial faith and catholic missions in the grand exhibitions of the Estado Novo". Análise Social, 193: 671–692.

Sánchez-Gómez, Luis Á. (2011) "Imperialismo, fe y espectáculo: la participación de las Iglesias cristianas en las exposiciones coloniales y universales del siglo XIX". Hispania. Revista Espa-ola de Historia, 237: 153–180.

Sánchez-Gómez, Luis Á. (2013) Dominación, fe y espectáculo: Las exposiciones misionales y coloniales en la era del imperialismo moderno (1851–1958). Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid.

Schneider, William H. (2002) "Les expositions ethnographiques du Jardin zoologique d'acclimatation". In Zoos humains. XIXe et XXe siècles, edited by Bancel, N. et al., Éditions La Decouverte, Paris, pp. 72–80.

Schwarz, Werner M. (2001) Anthropologische Spektakel: Zur Schaustellung "exotischer" Menschen, Wien 1870–1910. Turia und Kant, Vienna. [Serén, Maria do Carmo] (2001) A Porta do Meio. A Exposição Colonial de 1934. Fotografias da Casa Alvão. Ministério da Cultura, Centro Portugués de Fotografia, Porto.

Siddle, Richard (1996) Race, Resistance and the Ainu of Japan. Routledge, London and New York.

Staehelin, Balthasar (1993) Völkerschauen im Zoologischen Garten Basel 1879–1935. Basler Afrika Bibliographien, Basel.

Stanard, Matthew G. (2005) "'Bilan du monde pour un monde plus deshumanisé': The 1958 Brussels World's Fair and Belgian perceptions of the Congo". European History Quarterly, 35 (2): 267–298.

Stanard, Matthew G. (2009) "Interwar Pro-Empire Propaganda and European Colonial Culture: Toward a Comparative Research Agenda". Journal of Contemporary History, 44 (I): 27–48.

Stanard, Matthew G. (2011) Selling the Congo. A History of European Pro-Empire Propaganda and the Making of Belgian Imperialism. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London.

Thode-Arora, Hilke (1989) Für fünfzig Pfennig um die Welt. Die Hagenbeckschen Völkerschauen, Campus Verlag, Frankfurt and New York. Tran, Van Troi (2007) "L'éphémère dans l'éphémère. La domestication des colonies à l'Exposition universelle de 1889". Ethnologies, 29 (1–2): 143–169.

Vargaftig, Nadia (2010) "Les expositions coloniales sous Salazar et Mussolini (1930–1940)". Vingtième Siècle. Revue d'histoire, 108: 39–53.

Wilson, Michael (1991) "Consuming History: The Nation, the Past and the Commodity at l'Exposition Universelle de 1900". American Journal of Semiotics, 8 (4): 131–154.

Wynants, Maurits (1997) Des Ducs de Brabant aux villages Congolais. Tervuren et l'Exposition Coloniale 1897. Musée Royal de l'Afrique Centrale, Tervuren.

Wyss, Beat (2010) Bilder von der Globalisierung. Die Weltausstellung von Paris 1889, Insel Verlag, Franfurkt.

Copyright (c) 2013 Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Technical support: