Historians will get a better chance to find out what happened when the circus came to town, thanks to a grant to Illinois State University's Milner Library.
The Council on Library and Information Resources is giving Milner and two other circus libraries $268,000.
The money will allow circus route books from the nineteenth and early twenties centuries to be digitized. It's the largest grant ever for Milner.
Associate Dean Dallas Long says the circus route books can be used as a cultural lens where issues of race, big business, gender, otherness, nationhood, and views of empire can be explored.
"They are of great importance to a variety of disciplines. You learn about different types of geography. You learn the biographies of the performers. Circuses were the mass forms of entertainment before radio and television," said Long.
Long said circuses that had lions, tigers, and elephants also have interest in the business sector.
"They bring insurance issues with them. Those are of particular interests to business historians and the challenges that come with insuring big animal acts in the early insurance industry in the United States," said Long.
Route books came out at the end of the show’s season. They listed personnel by department, the circus route, and many times included photographs and statistics, such as miles traveled, number of cities visited, or meals served daily. In some, there are also daily diaries of weather, ticket sales, and unusual events.
Circus museums in Baraboo, Wisconsin and Sarasota, Florida will share in the grant to create a common portal to more than 300 on line route books from 1842 to 1969.