"Transoceanic Blackface: Empire, Race, Performance"
Transoceanic Blackface: Empire, Race, Performance (under advance contract with Northwestern University Press) traces a transnational history of racialized performance throughout the Anglophone world of the former British Empire and the United States. Focusing especially on colonial sites in the global south, it maps the circulations of multiple modes of blackface performance to answer the following questions: How did the complex of racialized performance now termed "blackface minstrelsy” emerge through transoceanic traffics of the Anglophone world? How did such performances forge and transmit common sense racial beliefs and feelings? Specifically, how were racialized performances entangled with discourses on labor, freedom, citizenship, gender, sexuality, and capacity?
Synthesizing methodologies from theatre historiography and performance studies, this project draws together an expansive archive of performance repertoires to analyze imperial racialized performance through six case studies.
Chapters map the successive waves of transoceanic blackface through which racialized performance encircled the globe – from the transmedial print and performance economies of the prerevolutionary transatlantic to the nineteenth-century transoceanic circulations that bound together the United States and the British Empire. Subjects of analysis include the transoceanic circulations of print minstrelsy, Othello burlesques, "Jim Crow," Sarah Baartman, William Henry Lane ("Juba"), Joe Brown and the Christy Minstrels, Dave Carson and the San Francisco Minstrels, and variety performers Grace Egerton and Baby Benson, among others. In sum, this project offers critical insight into performance’s mediation of historical anxieties over freedom and unfreedom, racial miscegenation, gender and sexuality, and the politics of representation, as well as how such performances furnished imperial intimacies of racial common sense.
Drawing from archives from colonial North America, Britain, South Africa, India, and Australia, this project argues that the circulations of transoceanic blackface generated and transmitted structures of feeling and belief about race on a global scale. Scenarios of racial mimicry, abjection, miscegenatory contact, and classed labor animated popular conceptions of racial being throughout the Anglophone world. Therefore, blackface and related racialized performance forms should not be considered as cultural exports of the United States; rather they formed a popular network of racialized colonial performance that encircled the globe and that shaped racial identities on the global stage.