Megan Sonner

By William & Mary

This campaign ended on April 23, 2016, but you can still make a gift to William & Mary by clicking here!

Freakery, Celebrity, & American Ideology

I examine a 24-page pamphlet from 1847 in Swem's Special Collections about General Tom Thumb, a dwarf who worked with PT Barnum in freakshows, a cultural institution from the 19th to the mid-20th century. The pamphlet details Thumb's European travels and reception by common audiences and royal courts alike through European newspaper articles. The second half of the pamphlet, likely sold as a souvenir after Thumb's return from abroad, is a songbook composed of songs he performed and songs/poems written about him.

I will analyze this document through the lenses of dis/ability studies as well as marxist, racial, feminist, and postcolonial thought to examine Stratton's celebrity life and the interaction of American ideologies with his extraordinary body. I center discussion on the performative nature of Stratton's freakery and the agency with which he acted as one of the US's wealthiest and well-known men.

The pamphlet's agenda seeks to mitigate potentially threatening implications of a secular American dream narrative, using a hero freak who defines sociopolitical status.

All William & Mary Honors Fellowships fundraising supports the Charles Center Honors Fellowships Fund. Direct support for individual undergraduate research projects is distributed by the Roy R. Charles Center for Academic Excellence. To learn more about Honors Fellowships, please visit our About page. If you have questions, please visit our FAQ page.

US Donor Map

Donor affiliations

20% Alumni

Show Alumni

24% Students

Show Students

7% Parents

Show Parents

64% Friends

Show Friends

Donor list

Ashley Glacel
Allison Pulcini
Dina Franch photoDina Franch
Haley Bauser
Abbey Childs
Michelle Klinger
Sarah Henry
Sam King
Allie Boggess
Allison Stratton
Anne L. McQuade
Seth Greenspan
Elizabeth Denny
Eve Chase
Deborah Blackwell
Katie Sweeney
Hunter Gentry
Steve Siminski
Frania Franch
Ben Kodres-O'Brien photoBen Kodres-O'Brien

No Matches
No Challenges