Artists or Beggars? Adaptive Strategies of Itinerant Entertainers in Brabant (1750-1914)

Vicky Vanruysseveldt, Anne Winter

Research Historical Research into Urban Transformation Processes (HOST)

Fonds voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek, 2012-2016

This project aims to gain insight into the migration patterns, income strategies and cultural repertoires of itinerant entertainers in Brabant in the ‘long nineteenth century’ (1750-1914). Making their living with public performances ranging from singing, making music, acting and puppetry to acrobatics and bear dancing, they travelled over short and long distances with their shows and brought entertainment to people who did or did not have regular access to amusement. The transition from preindustrial to industrial society confronted them with new opportunities and constraints, inciting permanent adaptations of their trajectories and shows. While they are often dismissed sideways as folklorist remnants of a bygone age or as ‘beggars in disguise’, this research aims to explore the relative success of their cultural repertoires and income strategies in their own right in a period of societal transformation. Using repressive sources on the one hand and requests and permissions for itinerant performances on the other hand as the main source materials, this research project aims to establish a balanced, comparative and long-term view on both the relative success of their survival strategies and their cultural importance during the transition from preindustrial to industrial society, with due attention for dynamics of social differentiation, professionalization, commercialisation, the expansion of urban leisure facilities and changing migration policies.