When William F. Cody introduced his Wild West exhibition to European audiences in 1887, the show soared to new heights of popularity and success. With its colorful portrayal of cowboys, Indians, and the taming of the North American frontier, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West popularized a myth of American national identity and shaped European perceptions of the United States. The Popular Frontier is the first collection of essays to explore the transnational impact and mass-cultural appeal of Cody’s Wild West.
As editor Frank Christianson explains in his introduction, for the first four years after Cody conceived it, the Wild West exhibition toured the United States, honing the operation into a financially solvent enterprise. When the troupe ventured to England for its first overseas booking, its success exceeded all expectations. Between 1887 and 1906 the Wild West performed in fourteen countries, traveled more than 200,000 miles, and attracted a collective audience in the tens of millions.
How did Europeans respond to Cody’s vision of the American frontier? And how did European countries appropriate what they saw on display? Addressing these questions and others, the contributors to this volume consider how the Wild West functioned within social and cultural contexts far grander in scope than even the vast American West. Among the topics addressed are the pairing of William F. Cody and Theodore Roosevelt as embodiments of frontier masculinity, and the significance of the show’s most enduring persona, Annie Oakley.
An informative and thought-provoking examination of the Wild West’s foreign tours, The Popular Frontier offers new insight into late-nineteenth-century gender politics and ethnicity, the development of American nationalism, and the simultaneous rise of a global mass culture.
In these concise, accessible essays, eleven scholars direct our gaze through an unlikely window upon the transatlantic travels of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. In showing how Europeans transformed America’s frontier mythology to meet their own cultural needs, the essays—instructive, interlocking, and colorful, even kaleidoscopic, much like the Wild West show itself—also reveal how the exhibition’s international journeys redefined the nation for its American audiences.”—Louis S. Warren, author of Buffalo Bill's America: William Cody and the Wild West Show