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An Evening with Summer Fellow Rhae Lynn Barnes

3 July 2019 @ 19 h 30 min - 21 h 00 min

“A Dangerous Unselfishness”: A Transatlantic Story of War, Civil Rights, and Amateur Blackface Minstrelsy

When the news story broke in the United States that Governor Northam (VA) and other politicians wore blackface and Klan regalia while in school, institutions across the United States were suddenly confronted with their all too recent blackface past. Universities in Paris also faced protests for the supposed use of theatrical blackface. Professor Rhae Lynn Barnes, the foremost expert on amateur blackface minstrelsy, has spent over a decade cataloging 10,000 minstrel plays, uncovering their prolific use on Broadway and by everyday people in schools, churches, political organizations, and even the White House. This lecture, derived from her forthcoming book, will tackle how blackface became an important form of cultural currency between Americans and Parisians as far back as the mid-nineteenth century, peaking during World War I and World War II when shows became federally sponsored. It will provide an overview of blackface history in America and France while examining the genre’s incredible social, political, and economic power as a cultural export. We will explore what a minstrel show was, how the genre developed, and how it was pushed underground through a coordinated Civil Rights campaign after being openly celebrated for over a century.


Rhae Lynn Barnes is Assistant Professor of American Cultural History at Princeton University specializing in the globalization of American popular culture and racism. While at the American Library in Paris, Barnes will complete her first book, Darkology: When the American Dream Wore Blackface which maps the political, economic, and global cultural geography of amateur blackface minstrelsy and conduct research for a new edition of the Image of the Black in Western Art series. She is Executive Advisor with Henry Louis Gates Jr. to the four-part PBS documentary series “Reconstruction: America After the Civil War” (now streaming online). Barnes earned her Ph.D. from Harvard University and B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley.


Rhae Lynn will also be leading a workshop at the Library on Thursday 11 July. For more information, please see https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfrw4p_WpeLzxCKRrqVs0yYfb9FMFDHg02IT8q0_V82U2oU5w/viewform?usp=sf_link


3 July 2019
19 h 30 min - 21 h 00 min
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