Origins of the circus

Playbill from Astley's Amphitheatre, 1777.

Department of English professor Leith Davis’s new project examines the 18th-century origins and transnational routes of the popular entertainment form that became known as “circus”. The project begins with Phillip Astley’s equestrian performances in 1768 and considers how the circus evolved to include pantomime and song. It examines the changes to the meaning of the circus as it was exported to North America: to Philadelphia and Montreal, for example.

Connected to this project, Professor Davis is also working with SFU's Digital Humanities Innovation Lab on a database that makes available the information from three volumes of “Astley’s Cuttings From Newspapers, 1768-1833” (Th. Cts. 35-37) in the British Library. When complete, the database will include images of the cuttings and transcriptions, along with searchable details of the performances (time, date, venue, performances, performers, price) for this time period, as well as additional material from the newspapers describing the performances.