Human Zoos

Monday, May 14, 2018
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Carl Hagenbeck was a 19th century German who collected wild animals and exhibited them in zoss and circuses. He is the zoo designed who , rather than using cages, first built enclosures to show the animals in a more natural setting.

Along with exhibiting animals he also displayed humans from far off lands in what were supposedly realistic depictions of their exotic homelands. From the article Human zoos: When people were the exhibits:
The first big ethnological exposition was organized in 1874 by a wild animal merchant from Hamburg, Carl Hagenbeck. "He had the idea to open zoos that weren't only filled with animals, but also people. People were excited to discover humans from abroad: Before television and color photography were available, it was their only way to see them," explains Anne Dreesbach, who published a book on the history of human zoos in Germany a few year ago.

The concept already existed in the early modern age, when European explorers brought back people from the new areas they had traveled to. Carl Hagenbeck took this one step further, staging the exhibitions to make them more attractive: Laplanders would appear accompanied by reindeer, Egyptians would ride camels in front of cardboard pyramids, Fuegians would be living in huts and had bones as accessories in their hair. "Carl Hagenbeck sold visitors an illusion of world travel with his human zoos," says historian Hilke Thode-Arora from Munich's ethnological museum.
Aside from the public's understandable fascination with foreign lands in an era before cameras and airplanes, the idea of human zoos was also steeped in the casual racism of the day -- with the belief that different ethnic people occupied rungs lower than Caucasians on the evolutionary ladder.

Most human zoos ended in the early 20th century, with the last occurring in 1931.


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