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The Incubator Babies of Coney Island | SymbioticA | 21 May

The Incubator Babies of Coney Island: Science, Spectacle and Sentimentality in the American Amusement Park 
Talk by Elizabeth Stephens
3:00pm, 21 May
SymbioticA, Room 228 School of Human Sciences
University of Western Australia
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One of the most popular and long-running attractions at the Coney Island amusement park during the first half of the twentieth century was an exhibition of “Infant Incubators,” run by a Dr Martin Couney. For an entry fee of twenty-five cents, members of the general public were invited to view the then-new and experimental technology of the baby incubator, furnished, the advertising banner proclaimed, “with live babies!” The babies in question were very premature newborns, generally weighing between two and three pounds on arrival, who remained on display inside their incubators during Coney Island’s summer season. This paper examines the history of the Incubator Baby exhibitions at Coney Island. It argues that while these were obviously highly problematic, they were also, strangely enough, one of the most progressive sites for the development of neonatal care in the US during the first half of the twentieth century.

Elizabeth Stephens is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow and Associate Professor of Cultural Studies in the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Queensland. She is the author of three monographs, including Normality: A Critical Genealogy (University of Chicago Press 2017), co-authored with Peter Cryle, and Anatomy as Spectacle: Public Exhibitions of the Body from 1700 to the Present (Liverpool University Press 2011). Her Future Fellowship examines practices of experimentation as a site of collaboration between the arts and sciences.