"Infantile specimens": Showing babies in nineteenth-century america

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15 Scopus citations


This article examines the origins and development of a common but little-studied form of nineteenth-century popular culture: the baby contest. Though contests were widely popular, they were also controversial. Fans of baby shows saw them as an expression of domesticity and maternal love, while critics of the shows argued that they objectified and commodified human beings. At issue was whether domesticity could be displayed and whether the objectified could be esteemed. Support for the shows overwhelmed opposition, and as the century wore on, criticism of the contests faded. By introducing a new form of display-the exhibition of the normal-baby contests helped to usher in a culture in which traditional oppositions such as public and private, home and market, objectification and approbation, were complementary rather than contradictory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)341-370+548
JournalJournal of Social History
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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