David Hall

Research title: Performance, Species and Naturalism: Staging the Human-Animal Boundary in Post-Darwinian Freakshows between 1859 and 1939.

Research Summary

Victorian freak show acts, such as the Ape Lady, the Elephant Man and the Dog-Faced Boy, were often advertised as being half-animal, half-human hybrids. Existing research has productively explored the belief and scepticism expressed by audiences, presenting empirical knowledge as the primary appeal of these acts. Drawing on theatre studies, animal studies and archival research, my project examines how these acts served a more theatrical purpose that inspired imaginative fantasies concerning species. This approach uncovers overlooked responses such as uncertainty and perplexity which offer new ways of thinking about freak shows and Victorian relationships with human and animal identities.


External supervisors

Professor Erica Fudge (University of Strathclyde)


University of Glasgow College of Arts PhD Scholarship


‘Embodying the Human-Animal Boundary: (Dis)Belief Amongst Victorian Freak Show Audiences’, University of Strathclyde School Seminar Series, 9th November 2022.

'Scepticism, Wonder and Evolutionary Ideas in Victorian Freak Show Acts', British Society for Literature and Science, Edinburgh Napier University, 13th-15th April 2023.


Theatre Studies 1B: Theatre and Society