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Freakish Taxonomies: How The American Freak Show and Its Literature Redefine the Archive


The American freak show, which dominated the entertainment landscape from 1840 to 1940, is considered by some disability studies scholars to be off limits for critical engagement. In Freakish Taxonomies: How the American Freak Show and its Literature Redefine the Archive, I argue that by casting the freak show solely as an exploitative institution, we overlook its capacity to serve as a model for reinterpreting the relationship between literary studies and the archive. By recognizing the freak show not just as an exploitative institution but also as a dynamic archive of marginalized lives—one that utilizes an imperfect, often deceptive taxonomy that makes its flaws wholly visible rather than hiding them—we can explore the freak show's ability to serve as an analytical model for literary studies. In my study, I argue that the freak show and its promotional texts and tools function as a model for close reading not the order, but the gaps and flaws—what I call “freakish taxonomies”—in literature produced during the freak show’s heyday. By applying this model of analysis to texts such as Moby-Dick, The Country of the Pointed Firs, Puddn'head Wilson and Those Extraordinary Twins, Of One Blood, and Quicksand, many of which have been classified as failed or flawed by critics, I argue that we can better identify the complex stories of marginalized lives that have sometimes been overlooked in these texts while simultaneously challenging disability studies’ critical contention that novels are "part of a project of middle class hegemony" (Davis 41). As a result of this process of close reading and narrative identification, we can also redefine our understanding of the archive by moving away from the repository model and towards a "liberatory" archive which is more inclusive of the histories of marginalized populations and aligns with the more holistic turns of disability studies and archival studies.




March 2020 - X-R-A-Y @ AWP Co-Host and Reader, Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference, San Antonio, TX

March 2020 - Okay Donkey Featured Reader, Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference, San Antonio, TX


March 2019 - SmokeLong Quarterly Featured Reader, Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference, Portland, OR     


March 2019 - Pen Parentis representative, Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference, Portland, OR


February 2019 - “’The Undiscovered Country Within’: Interior Monologue As Resistance and Revisioning of the ‘Tragic Mulatta’ in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand,” 2019 Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture

Since 1900


February 2019 - Tiger and Woolf (novel excerpt), 2019 Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900


March 2018 - Pen Parentis Fellow and representative, Association Of Writers & Writing Programs Conference, Tampa, FL   


February 2018 - “’Women’s Work’: Redefining Archive, Reclaiming Personal Narrative, and the Restitutive Power of the Female Academic,” Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900  


February 2018 - The Sleeper prologue (creative submission), Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900

November 2016 - “Mother Country, Magic Ring: Temporality, Motherhood, and Nation Formation in Lydia Maria Child’s Hobomok,” Midwest Modern Language Association Conference, St. Louis, MO


November 2015 - “The Personal is Professional” Legacy-sponsored panel, The Society for the Study of American Women Writers Conference, Philadelphia, PA


March 2015 - “Narratives of Birth and Prosthesis in Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Philosophy of Composition’,” English Graduate Student Conference, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY


March 2014 - “’Into the Magic Ring’: The Temporality of Motherhood in Lydia Maria Child’s Hobomok,” English Graduate Student Conference, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY

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