Circus News

The Life of Circus Lady Josephine Demott

In 2016, Milner Library received one of its largest grants ever to collaborate with Circus World in Baraboo, Wisconsin, and The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida, to digitize circus route books in order to make their important history widely available. Work to digitize more than 300 route books was completed in the summer of 2020, although work continues as staff continue to improve the discoverability of the important historical information housed in the route books. Below, Digital Imaging Specialist Elizabeth Harman shares part of her experience working on this fascinating project.

When I was first hired onto the grant to work on the Circus Route Book collection as a digital imaging specialist in 2017, I could have never anticipated what my job would entail after three and a half years (and counting). The first phase of my job consisted of digitizing the 306 books that were to be published in the online collection. Once that was completed with the help of some amazing student workers, there was enough time in the original grant period to collect data on each of the books. The goal of this was to make the books easily researched and accessible and is where my journey really diving into the books began. I have now read each of the books multiple times through and have learned so much about the circus and its performers these past two years. Each book has its own unique charms and stories which made it difficult not to get lost within them. It is not hard to see how much the circus affected society and the world we see today: They were the ultimate celebrities and entertainers of their time. Though many performers led fantastic, and sometimes unbelievable lives, one in particular piqued my interest…

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