I have been obsessed with dime museums lately. I am currently in the process of adapting my previous post on them, Dime Museums and the Exhibitionary Complex, into a full book chapter for an upcoming collection, and my mind has been racing with thoughts. Dime museums are fascinating institutions that lie at the intersections between the museum and the circus. This was the realm of the humbug, where any manner of lie would be told to an adoring public. Wax dummies next to fake taxidermy. At the very heart, where the glitz and glamour of show business crossed with the curatorial, was the freak show. It was from the dime museum’s stage where the cabinets of human curiosities could be seen.
It was popular. Really popular. It was through his dime museum that PT Barnum became a household name. They would peak in popularity between the 1880s and 1890s, suffering a slow decline until their fateful death in the interwar period. But their memory lingers, even to today. My previous post looked to apply museum theory in the form of Tony Bennett to discuss dime museums, and in researching the book chapter, I found myself thinking on another facet of museum studies; Jennifer Tyburczy’s Sex Museums and her declaration that all museums are sex museums.
When I think about how I describe my current career trajectory and the aim of this blog, the phrase I frequently come back to is “bridging the gap between trans studies and museum studies.” I think this really highlights what I am trying to achieve. Museum studies alone is not at the point yet where I feel it can quarrel with the very broad idea of transness on its own (just recently I found an article published last year that used a definition that misgenders trans people) and so it is frequently within the sphere of trans writing that I find relevant material. This was the case with Clare Sears’ Arresting Dress: Cross-Dressing, Law, and Fascination in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco and one section in particular.
Trying to bridge the gap between transgender studies and museum studies.