The Pull of Horses in Urban American Performance, 1860-1920

An original full-length (72-minute) documentary created at the University of Iowa Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio over a four-year collaboration by Kim Marra, Professor of Theatre Arts and American Studies; Mark Anderson, Digital Scholarship and Collections Librarian; and Wade Hampton, Los Angeles sound designer and video editor (Iowa BA, 2018). The film is structured with an introduction and five sections—Life in Stables, Work Horses, Central Park, Show Horses, and Horses on Stage—that focus on human-equine performances to illuminate how horses shaped gender and other human identities and bodies in and beyond the emerging U.S. cultural capital, New York City, when as many as 130,000 horses lived and worked among 1.85 million people on the island of Manhattan. Although the film can be viewed and appreciated on smaller devices, it is designed for optimal effect to be shown on a 9x16-foot screen set at ground level with rear projection in a generally lit gallery-type setting with surround sound where viewers can approach the screen and experience the historical images and sound effects at life-sized scale. Whatever their screen size, viewers are encouraged to imagine their own bodies in relation to the horses’ to gain a sense of that now forgotten density of urban equine presence, power, and motion and reflect on its manifold effects on socio-cultural life and the material existence of both species. The film premiered by playing on a loop at the center of an exhibit, “The Pull of Horses on National and Local Histories and Identities,” in the University of Iowa’s Main Library Gallery from January 29 to March 17, 2020, when it was forced to close because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The digital afterlife and record of the exhibit, including a video tour, can be found at: *** ***