In 1887, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody embarked for England on his first international tour. During the original London run of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West–coinciding with the celebration of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee–the Wild West routinely played to more than twenty thousand people in fourteen performances a week. It was the subject of nonstop coverage in the London press and enthralled the country’s political and cultural elites. Over two million visitors witnessed the spectacle, and millions more read about it.
This digital research project uses topic modeling and text analysis tools to analyze popular representations of the American West published in London prior to the arrival of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in 1887. It visualizes how these widely-read texts shaped and reflected conceptions of the American West among the British reading public and compares these visualizations to textual analyses of promotional material generated by Cody’s marketing team as well to commentary on the performances in British periodicals and newspapers.
Preliminary findings suggest that while Cody was depicted as the “Last of the Mohicans” in the Illustrated Penny Press upon his arrival in England–a representation that conflated early and late-nineteenth-century American frontier experiences–he departed having conveyed to his imperial-era British audience a new sense of the American West as the locus of a distinctive crucible of civilization-building in an increasingly globalized age.