Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
First-Year Seminar


FYS Section B01. Visualizing Circus: From Freaks and Geeks to Cirque du Soleil

Circuses have long been part of the visual landscape, especially in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries during the heyday of the traveling circus. In this course, students will gain an understanding of circus history and of the social, political, and economic roles played by circus as a global art form. Students will explore the visual culture of circus from the graphic design innovations of Philip Astley’s eighteenth-century English circus to the contemporary spectacles produced by Cirque du Soleil. An emphasis will be placed on the critical analysis of visual representations of troupes and circus performers, including those found in commercial posters, film and video, children’s books, fine art, and contemporary popular culture. Case studies will include circuses in Africa, Europe, and North and South America. At the end of this course, students will understand the importance of visual productions and their reception in the creation and development of circus as an art form.

Leah Niederstadt
Assistant Professor of Museum Studies, Art History