The Print Culture and Gender RElations of Amateur Minstrelsy

Summer 2008

Rhae Lynn Barnes : History

Mentor: Thomas Laqueur, History

Blackface minstrel shows in the 19th century are well documented, but their parallel counter-part, amateur minstrelsy, is believed to be a peripheral phenomenon implemented by scattered radicals. Thousands of blackface plays were written and distributed in the 20th century with crucial contributions to both racial and gender construction that have not been cataloged or analyzed. I will track amateur minstrelsy’s print culture between 1890 and 1960, expanding its chronology, increase minstrel research’s geography to the American Midwest, further illuminate the cross-dressing gender conflict in minstrelsy, and provide a bibliographical analysis of amateur minstrelsy by tracking its print culture. This bibliographic database will fill the baffling 100-year gap between 19th century professional minstrelsy and contemporary coverage of its traces in film and television.

The opportunity to do a concentrated, independent research project with the SURF program is meaningful to me as it culminates my historical studies in race relations and gender construction at UC Berkeley into a project I feel has important social and cultural implications. My deepest hope is that by tracking these sources and their archetypal development I can contribute to the understanding of how specific stereotypes about women and people of diverse ethnicities have been developed and maintained. Understanding from where racial and gender caricatures come is empowering contemporarily to activists trying to deconstruct them. Finally, working one-on-one with my faculty mentor who has both inspired and instructed me since I was a freshman is very significant to me.