Peoples on Parade

My first book, Peoples on Parade, was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2011. It was a dream made real and I am forever indebted to the press for producing such a beautiful final book. I was lucky enough to win the Sonya Rudikoff Prize for best first book published in Victorian Studies in 2011. Below you’ll find extracts from the blurb and, in no particular order, some of my favourite reviews.

Dust jacket of Peoples on Parade featuring numerous people of colour in national dress from an antiquarian history of costume.


Felipe Fernández-Armesto, Literary Review

‘[E]ntertaining and instructive. . . . [T]he vividness, humour, poignancy and humanity of the relationships between showmen, public, and the participants on parade make for irresistible reading.’

Zoë Laidlaw, Historian

‘A lavish, beautifully produced, and exotically illustrated spectacle. . . . This is an excellent and compelling book with a wide appeal: essential reading for those with a scholarly interest in the history of anthropology, race, and metropolitan cultures of empire but highly rewarding for those with a more casual interest in Victorian Britain and popular entertainment.’

Geoffrey A. C. Ginn, Australian Journal of Politics and History

‘[A] fascinating argument, a dizzying tour of the ethnic entrepreneurship of Victorian London supported by the brilliant visual evidence of posters, playbills, postcards and ephemera. As a decisive statement of how entertainment and ethnography coalesced in the fertile Petri dish of Victorian popular culture, resulting in far more subtle and contingent consequences than is permitted by reductionist assumptions of endemic nineteenth-century racism, Peoples on Parade is a brave, stimulating and important book.’

Los Angeles Review of Books

‘[An] impressive new book.’

Radhika Natrajan, Invisible Culture

‘The originality of this book and the importance of its contribution lies in the way Qureshi brings together various strands of nineteenth-century British history: the changing social landscape of the metropole, the networks of empire, and the diffuse origins of scientific ideas.’

Jack David Eller, Anthropology Review Database

‘[This] interesting, informative, and quite beautiful book is a great service to anthropology.’

Nadja Durbach, Cultural and Social History

Peoples on Parade is an important book that maps shifting perceptions of the relationships among spectacle, science, and race and reveals the ways in which exhibitions of non-Western peoples contributed to dynamic and contentious debates about human variation. Qureshi contributes to the vibrant scholarship on the relationship between popular culture and the cultures of nineteenth-century science, as well as consolidating arguments about the nature of Britain’s metropolitan imperial culture.’

Anne Clendinning, Journal of World History

‘In this impressive and important contribution to the field, Sadiah Qureshi demonstrates that we still have much to learn from and about the troubling practice of exhibiting living human subjects, a form of popular entertainment that reached its height during the late Victorian era but continued into the twentieth century.’

Tiziana Morosetti, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews

‘Qureshi’s discussion of the widespread phenomenon of the display of living exhibits in Victorian and pre-Victorian Britain is convincing and an effort as praiseworthy as it is rewarding, the result of scrupulous and attentive research; one that will be equally useful to the novice in the field, is highly appreciated by the experienced scholar.’

Andrew Cobbing, International Journal

Peoples on Parade, a magisterial work that takes the reader on a guided tour through Victorian exhibitions, brings a sensitive approach to the emotive theme of humans on display. Often viewed with horror now, even at the time such exhibitions were trivialized as “freak shows” or dismissed as pseudoscience, notably by early anthropologists guarding their own field. Qureshi offers a more nuanced reading, exploring how some shows also contributed to scientific enquiry. …Overall, this is an imaginative, wide-ranging study, written with flair and authority, and providing some fresh insights into the curious world of showcasing human exotica in nineteenth-century Britain’.


Catherine Hall, University College London

‘Sadiah Qureshi’s sensitive and wide-ranging exploration of the troubled and freighted history of displayed peoples in nineteenth-century Britain richly complicates our understanding of the intersections between natural science, racial theories, and popular culture. Attending both to the forms of production and promotion of the shows and to the showmen, the audiences, the ethnologists, and the anthropologists who sought to define their meanings, she carefully illuminates the ways in which debates about human variety were produced on multiple sites and were subject to contestation, not least from the performers, who intervened, demonstrating their own, albeit constrained, agency.’

Andrew Zimmerman, George Washington University

‘In vivid prose and with striking images, Peoples on Parade overturns conventional accounts of nineteenth-century ethnographic performances as naive encounters across an absolute imperial divide. Sadiah Qureshi reveals the productive interactions of performers, impresarios, audiences, and anthropologists in an imperial metropole already traversed by cultural, racial, and ethnic differences. This book will be of interest to students of empire, popular culture, and the history of science.’

Richard Drayton, King’s College London

Peoples on Parade is a major contribution to the cultural history of Victorian Britain. Sadiah Qureshi offers a new perspective on the domestic imaginative life of the British Empire, deftly poised between the ‘high’ and popular cultures of race, science, religion, debates about foreign and colonial policy, and a vast commercial world which marketed exotic peoples through spectacular shows and sensational imprints. She offers an elegant rebuttal of those who still think imperialism was ‘absent minded’ or that it, or science, was merely the concern of an “official mind”.’

Ralph O’Connor, University of Aberdeen

Peoples on Parade breaks new ground in two increasingly prominent fields in the history of science: popularization and race. Dissolving the traditional dichotomy between the making and the popularization of knowledge, Sadiah Qureshi shows that science was made as well as staged in the shows she analyzes. Her book also transcends simple equations between exotic human displays and racist oppression, unpacking the complex social, political, and personal negotiations which made these shows such an important part of nineteenth-century public culture.’

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