1st Edition

Ethnic Expositions in Italy, 1880 to 1940 Humans on Exhibition

By Guido Abbattista Copyright 2024
    512 Pages 44 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Comprehensively analyzing for the first time the phenomenon of ethnic living expositions in Italy between the 19th and 20th centuries, this book deals with the subject from a comparative European perspective and over the long term, studying analogies and differences in precedents as far back as the early modern age.

    The research, which seeks to go beyond the simplistic concept of "human zoos," intends to highlight the intentions, assumptions, and mechanisms of realization of the exhibitions of exotic living humans and the reactions from both the exhibited subjects and the public, exploiting a wide variety of heterogeneous sources capable of bringing out a kind of widespread popular ethno-anthropological ideas and the elements of racism contained in it. The book contributes to the understanding of Western mindsets and attitudes towards human diversity as they emerge from mass spectacular events that have over time become an international business. The present edition refers to the second Italian edition, containing an update discussing studies on the subject that have appeared between 2013 and 2021.

    Ethnic Expositions in Italy intends to fill a historiographical gap and to align Italian historiographies with European ones, which have long since come to terms with this legacy of the past and have explored its various historical manifestations in depth.

    This book is an excellent source for researchers and students alike, as well as those interested in the mechanisms that have helped shape European ideas and sensibilities on race and ethno-anthropological diversity.





    Narratives about humans on exhibition


    Editorial note


    1. Words and things

    2. Historiography: Human exhibitions

    3. Historiography: The colonial experience

    4. Distribution

    5. A look at the present

    6. Ten years later




    I. From the beaches of the Red Sea to the banks of the River Po

    II. Exhibitions, colonies, otherness

    II.1. A long European story resulting from globalisation

    II. 2. The century of exhibitions: A world of shows and the spectacle of the world

    III. Turin 1884: ‘A snippet of African life in the heart of European life’

    III.1 Arriving in third class, returning in first class: The Italian adventure of six Africans

    III. 2. Under the spotlight

    III.3. The other side of the coin: Racism with a human face

    III.4. The Assabian ‘ruse’: Political controversy and imaginative satirical humour.




    IV. Palermo 1892 and Milan 1894

    IV.1. Palermo 1892

    IV.2. Milan 1894

    V. Missionary exhibitions and ethno-exhibitions

    V.1. La Civiltà Cattolica and the world of exhibitions

    V.2. Nineteenth-century precedents and trends (1858–1906)

    V.3. Genoa 1892

    V.4. Turin 1898 and further developments in the Fascist era

    VI. Show villages

    VI.1. General aspects

    VI.2. Between the Dinkas and the Wild West Show:  Milan, Turin, and elsewhere, 1895–1906

    VI.3 Turin 1898 and beyond

    VII. Exhibitions and science: From villages to the anatomical theatre

    VII.1. The ‘anatomy of the Negro’: Comparatism and racism

    VII.2. Anatomical findings and real lives

    VII.3. Forms of racism: Spectacular exhibitions, public health, and medical science

    VIII. ‘Reverse explorations’ and ‘Geography books in action’: Exhibitions and colonial villages in early twentieth-century Italy

    VIII.1. Turin 1902

    VIII.2. Milan 1906

    IX. From the fiftieth anniversary of Italian national unification to the wars (1911–1914)           

    IX.1. Turin 1911

    IX.2. Genoa 1914

    X. Conclusion: Towards empire, racial laws, and the war (1920–1940)





    Guido Abbattista is Professor of Modern History at the University of Trieste. He is a specialist in the cultural history of colonialism, imperialism and human diversity 18th-19th century. He published books on James Mill, Edmund Burke, Lord Bolingbroke, Anquetil-Duperron, abbé Raynal, the European view of China in the Enlightenment and living human ethno-exhibitions 18th-20th century.