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Blackface Minstrelsy and the Theater of Empire, 1838-1860

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dc.contributor.advisor Saler, Bethel
dc.contributor.advisor Friedman, Andrew, 1974- Johnson, Miranda 2019-08-08T15:48:55Z 2019-08-08T15:48:55Z 2019
dc.description.abstract In the early 1830s, blackface minstrelsy burst onto the American entertainment landscape and remained a dominant form of popular culture for the rest of the century. Unsurprisingly then, as the first United States naval voyages sailed into the Pacific Ocean, beginning with the United States Exploring Expedition in 1838, amateur minstrels were often present among the crews. They performed not only for their fellow sailors but also for the people they encountered abroad. This thesis explores the various roles blackface minstrelsy played in the first wave of US maritime imperialism in the Pacific, from the 1830s to the 1850s. It situates blackface minstrelsy within a landscape of other performances of the theatricality of early American imperial ventures in the Pacific, such as performatively brutal acts of violence, military pomp, and diplomatic ceremony in order to examine the ways in which minstrelsy both shaped and reflected how American racial norms impacted the United States’ early imperial ambitions in the Pacific. Through examinations of the United States Exploring Expedition (1838-1842) and the Perry mission to Japan (183-1856), this paper investigates how blackface minstrelsy was deployed in different contexts, and how these differences reflected developments in imperial strategy over the course of the mid-nineteenth century. The U.S. Ex. Ex. performances were not part of any cohesive strategy, but a single element of many, often contradictory, performances of American presence and power. At both Tahiti and Fiji, blackface was performed for a combined audience of Americans and indigenous people. Blackface minstrelsy was initiated by everyday sailors for entertainment value and as an extension or presentation of American culture. Commodore Matthew C. Perry, meanwhile, incorporated blackface minstrelsy as part of a strategy of pageantry in Japan which specifically emphasized representations of blackness as a uniquely American diplomatic currency.
dc.description.sponsorship Haverford College. Department of History
dc.language.iso eng
dc.subject.lcsh Minstrel music
dc.subject.lcsh United States Exploring Expedition (1838-1842)
dc.subject.lcsh United States Naval Expedition to Japan (1852-1854)
dc.title Blackface Minstrelsy and the Theater of Empire, 1838-1860
dc.type Thesis
dc.rights.access Open Access

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