“Authentic Imitation or Perverse Original? Learning About Race from America’s Popular Platforms”

—Kirt H. Wilson and Kaitlyn G. Patia

“Kirt H. Wilson and Kaitlyn G. Patia reveal the ways that nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American audiences gained impressions about racial difference by witnessing the platform entertainments of European and African Americans. To explicate the myriad roles that mimesis played on the public stage, Wilson and Patia range across time from minstrel shows to the performances of Polk Miller and His Old South Quartette, from the musical dramas of the Hyers Sisters to the plays of William Wells Brown. Along the way, they demonstrate how performative imitation challenged the assumptions of natural differences between whites and blacks and suggested, instead, that race was a matter of enculturation and imbricated in material opportunity. Wilson and Patia disrupt the often taken-for-granted racial lines that purportedly defined nineteenth-century lecture culture, detailing reifications of and challenges to conceptions of race on the public stage” (pp. 16-17).

Selected Bibliography on Race and Imitation

Brooks, Daphne. Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom, 1850-1910. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.

Cockrell, Dale. Demons of Disorder: Early Blackface Minstrels and Their World. CCambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Crummell, Alexander, and Jeremiah Moses Wilson. Destiny and Race : Selected Writings, 1840-1898. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1992.

Wilson, Kirt H. “The Racial Politics of Imitation in the Nineteenth Century.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 89, no. 2 (2003): 89-108.

Relevant People

William Wells Brown

Hyers Sisters

Polk Miller