Wonder Shows: Performing Science, Magic, and Religion in America

Wonder Shows: Performing Science, Magic, and Religion in America

Wonder Shows: Performing Science, Magic, and Religion in America

Wonder Shows: Performing Science, Magic, and Religion in America

Synopsis

"In Wonder Shows, Fred Nadis offers a colorful history of traveling magicians, inventors, popular science lecturers, and other presenters of "miracle science" who revealed science and technology to the public in awe-inspiring fashion. The book provides an innovative synthesis of the history of performance with a wider study of culture, science, and religion from the antebellum period to the present. Although most recent defenders of science are prone to reject wonder, considering it an ally of ignorance and superstition, Wonder Shows demonstrates that the public's passion for magic and meaning is still very much alive. Today, sales continue to be made and allegiances won based on illusions that products are unique, singular, and at best, miraculous. Nadis establishes that contemporary showmen, corporate publicists, advertisers, and popular science lecturers are not that unlike the magicians and mesmerists of years ago." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

One of my more prominent childhood memories involves a visit to Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. Besides being impressed by the neoclassical building next to the lake and all the stone ladies holding up the roof on their heads, I recall a science demonstration that a young, smocked woman offered in a small anteroom, possibly the gift shop. Among other tricks she placed a rose in a vial of liquid nitrogen, removed it, and struck it with a hammer—its petals then shattered as if made of stone or plaster. This unexpected and beautiful event evoked a sense of awe in me. I was fascinated, both by the completely unexpected shattering of the rose, and that a young woman could control such strange cosmic forces.

Her explanation of this and her many other demonstrations remain vague; but I now realize that this was the first performance I had witnessed of what in this work I call a “wonder show.” It did not make a scientist of me, as may have been the intention, but it did instill an appreciation for the possibilities that technology and showmanship could provide. For me, that museum demonstration combined science and poetics. Such a demonstration fits the description of a wonder show that this work relies on. In such shows, science and technology create surprise then pleasure in the spectator whose day-to-day perceptions are shattered and opened to new realms of possibility.

Another childhood memory also relates to this performance genre. At a junior high school gym assembly in the 1960s, on a tilted screen, a visiting lecturer projected time-lapse films of plants growing and sprouting flowers. The footage was black-and-white, grainy, shot from not particularly dramatic angles, yet enthralling. The repetition of the event and absence of style only increased our interest. The speaker told us that a fellow townsperson, an engineer, had pioneered this technique decades . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.