A Reading on Puppeteers, Ropedancers, and Conjurers


Please join UMass Press, Tuesday, November 1, 7 p.m., at the Jones Library for a reading by Peter Benes from his newest book: For a Short Time Only: Itinerants and the Resurgence of Popular Culture in Early America.

Peter Benes is director of the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife in affiliation with Historic Deerfield, Inc., in Deerfield, MA.

In this book he examines the rise of early American popular culture through the lives and work of itinerants who circulated in British North America and the United States from the late seventeenth through the early nineteenth century. These show people—acrobats, wire dancers, tumblers, trick riders, painters, dancing-masters, waxworks proprietors, healers, and singing and language teachers—brought novelty and culture to remote areas. Advertising in newspapers, they attracted audiences with the hook of appearing “for a short time only.”

Although they were frequently reviled as quacks and absconders by many provincials, these transients enjoyed a unique camaraderie and found audiences among high- and lowbrow alike. Drawing on contemporary diaries, letters, reminiscences, and hitherto inaccessible newspaper ads, broadsides, and images, Benes suggests why some elements of Europe’s carnival and folklore traditions failed to gain acceptance in American society while others flourished brilliantly.

The Jones Library is located at 43 Amity Street in Amherst, MA.