Stage illusionist, magician, entertainment, 19th century, social history


By the late nineteenth and early twenty century both the United States and Europe were experiencing massive shifts in social organization, social attitudes, and global influence due to the effects of the industrial revolution and imperialistic expansion. This birth of a public sphere and the mass entertainment industry was related to a blurring of the lines between traditional social classes. Mass entertainment's growth was directly related to the need to attract large audiences with entertainment that appealed in some way to a broad spectrum of the populace. At the same time, stage illusionists or magicians were one of the most recognizable stars of mass entertainment. In fact, they were in the midst of what has been termed the “Golden Age” of magic. By recognizing the popularity of their performances in the United States and Europe, this thesis will use them as a reflection of historical trends and popular attitudes in areas such as romanticism, secular/technical superiority, race, and gender. Historians, like Lawrence Levine, have produced a number of historical studies in regards to performance art, mass entertainment, and the historical implications represented in entertainment. Previous studies of magicians during the time period have been primarily biographical or technical in nature. It is only recently that historians have begun to combine the two in regards to performance magic. This thesis will combine previous research on the historical narrative of the time from authors such as Leon Fink, Sean Cashman, and Alan Trachtenburg in order to analyze how magical performances confirm conclusions reached by previous work on the historical context of these performances. The themes that are addressed within this work begin with the birth of mass entertainment, the need for an act with mass appeal to attract audiences, and how the mass entertainment displays a blurring of class lines. It will expand on work by Daniel T. Rogers in explaining how these trends were not exclusive to the United States or Europe and were actually a transatlantic phenomenon. It will use Simon During to explain how magicians, with roots in folk culture, became stars on the stage because of their appeal and their unique position in performance art. It will add to work by authors such as Lawrence Levine, showing how magicians needed to perform acts for mass consumption by working class, middle class, and upper class individuals. Finally, it will use magical performances as text to reflect social attitudes of the time period much in the way that authors such as Eric Green or Katherine Prince have done in their work.


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Graduation Date





Cassanello, Robert


Master of Arts (M.A.)


College of Arts and Humanities



Degree Program

History; Public History








Release Date

December 2015

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)


Arts and Humanities -- Dissertations, Academic; Dissertations, Academic -- Arts and Humanities