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Performing the Temple of Liberty

Slavery, Theater, and Popular Culture in London and Philadelphia, 1760–1850

Jenna M. Gibbs

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How popular theater, including blackface characters, reflected and influenced attitudes toward race, the slave trade, and ideas of liberty in early America.

Jenna M. Gibbs explores the world of theatrical and related print production on both sides of the Atlantic in an age of remarkable political and social change. Her deeply researched study of working-class and middling entertainment covers the period of the American Revolution through the first half of the nineteenth century, examining controversies over the place of black people in the Anglo-American moral imagination. Taking a…

How popular theater, including blackface characters, reflected and influenced attitudes toward race, the slave trade, and ideas of liberty in early America.

Jenna M. Gibbs explores the world of theatrical and related print production on both sides of the Atlantic in an age of remarkable political and social change. Her deeply researched study of working-class and middling entertainment covers the period of the American Revolution through the first half of the nineteenth century, examining controversies over the place of black people in the Anglo-American moral imagination. Taking a transatlantic and nearly century-long view, Performing the Temple of Liberty draws on a wide range of performed texts as well as ephemera—broadsides, ballads, and cartoons—and traces changes in white racial attitudes.

Gibbs asks how popular entertainment incorporated and helped define concepts of liberty, natural rights, the nature of blackness, and the evils of slavery while also generating widespread acceptance, in America and in Great Britain, of blackface performance as a form of racial ridicule. Readers follow the migration of theatrical texts, images, and performers between London and Philadelphia. The story is not flattering to either the United States or Great Britain. Gibbs's account demonstrates how British portrayals of Africans ran to the sympathetic and to a definition of liberty that produced slave manumission in 1833 yet reflected an increasingly racialized sense of cultural superiority. On the American stage, the treatment of blacks devolved into a denigrating, patronizing view embedded both in blackface burlesque and in the idea of "Liberty," the figure of the white goddess.

Performing the Temple of Liberty will appeal to readers across disciplinary lines of history, literature, theater history, and culture studies. Scholars and students interested in slavery and abolition, British and American politics and culture, and Atlantic history will also take an interest in this provocative work.

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Performing the Temple of Liberty

Jenna M. Gibbs

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Reviews

Provides a fresh look at the transatlantic circulation of printed materials, the cultural work these materials performed, and their political and social implications for eighteenth- and nineteenth-century debates on slavery and abolition... Performing the Temple of Liberty constitutes an important contribution to the scholarship on print and performance culture in the British Atlantic.

Serves as a valuable contribution to the study of antislavery politics and to the study of Anglo-Atlantic popular culture.

Gibbs' impressive study provides a fresh look on the transatlantic circulation of printed materials, the cultural work these materials perform, and their political and social implications for eighteenth and nineteenth-century debates on slavery and abolition...Performing the Temple of Liberty undoubtedly constitutes an important contribution to the scholarship on print and performance culture in the British Atlantic.

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About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
328
ISBN
9781421413389
Illustration Description
22 b&w photos
Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Political and Cultural Exchange in the British Atlantic
Part I: Slave-Trade Abolition: Pageantry, Parody, and the Goddess of Liberty (1790s–1820s)
1

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Political and Cultural Exchange in the British Atlantic
Part I: Slave-Trade Abolition: Pageantry, Parody, and the Goddess of Liberty (1790s–1820s)
1. Celebrating Columbia, Mother of the White Republic
2. Abolitionist Britannia and the Blackface Supplicant Slave
3. Spreading Liberty to Africa
Part II: Emancipation and Political Reform: Burlesque, Picaresque, and the Great Experiment (1820s–1830s)
4. Black Freedom and Blackface Picaresque: Life in London, Life inPhiladelphia
5. Transatlantic Travelers, Slavery, and Charles Mathews's "Black Fun"
Part III: Radical Abolitionism, Revolt, and Revolution: Spartacus and the Blackface Minstrel (1830s–1850s)
6. Spartacus, Jim Crow, and the Black Jokes of Revolt
7. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Black Spartacus, Black Hercules, and theWage Slave
Conclusion: Uncle Tom, the Eighteenth-Century Revolutionary Legacy, and Historical Memory
Notes
Essay on Sources
Index

Author Bio
Jenna M. Gibbs
Featured Contributor

Jenna M. Gibbs

Jenna M. Gibbs is an assistant professor of history at Florida International University.