Immigration, Ethnicity, and National Identity in Brazil, 1808 to the Present by Jeffrey Lesser (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Slavery on 2014-12-16 01:58Z by Steven

Immigration, Ethnicity, and National Identity in Brazil, 1808 to the Present by Jeffrey Lesser (review)

Journal of Interdisciplinary History
Volume 45, Number 3, Winter 2015
pages 449-451

Samuel L. Baily, Professor Emeritus of History
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Jeffrey Lesser, Immigration, Ethnicity, and National Identity in Brazil, 1808 to the Present (Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

Lesser’s book is an ambitious, commendable effort to explain the complex evolving relationships between immigration, ethnicity, and national identity in Brazil since 1808. Over that period of time, 6 million immigrants entered Brazil. The large majority of them were of European descent—slightly fewer than one-third of them from both Portugal and Italy, 13 percent from Spain, and 4 percent from Germany. Non-Europeans comprised nearly 20 percent of the total—Japanese about 5 percent, and Middle Eastern Jews and Arabs, Chinese, Latin Americans, and Americans the remainder. The flow of each group varied in intensity over time. Most of the immigrants settled in the southern part of the country and in the state and city of Sao Paulo, but others spread into other areas as well. Lesser seeks to analyze the impact of migration both on the immigrants themselves and on the evolving meaning of Brazilian national identity.

As daunting a task as Lesser’s may seem, the topic is further complicated by the fact that approximately 30 percent of Brazil’s population at the time of its independence in 1822 were African Brazilians, who served as the primary workforce for the colonial economy. Thus, race became intimately linked to immigration, to ethnicity, and ultimately to definitions of national identity. Immigrants did not provide labor in Brazil alone; they did so in the United States as well. But conceptions of immigrants’ standing in these two societies differed considerably. The United States saw itself as the “promised land” where immigrants could immediately improve their prospects, whereas many of the people who constituted Brazil’s host society hoped that immigrants, by virtue of their physical and cultural presence, would gradually improve an imperfect nation by ameliorating its mixed racial composition. They adopted a “whiteness model” of development. Lesser correctly insists that immigration and national identity cannot be understood separately from the broader context of race.

The book includes many important statistical tables and interesting illustrations (postage stamps, postcards, maps, photos, magazine ads, and cartoons, among others). At the end of five of the six chapters are appended relevant short primary documents related to the topics that they discussed. The work also includes a useful, comprehensive historiographical essay on Brazilian immigration, ethnicity, and national identity, but also sufficient citations to facilitate comparisons with the United States, Argentina, and other New World countries that experienced major immigrations.

Lesser previously published three books on major aspects of his current subject—one about Jewish rnigration to Brazil, the second about negotiating national identity in Brazil, and the third about Japanese Brazilians. In the present volume, he builds skillfully on this foundation of primary data and analysis to deepen our understanding of these complex issues. He organizes his book in loose chronological order beginning with a chapter about Central European and Asian migration schemes (1822–1870), followed by chapters about mass European migration (1880–1920), Middle Eastern migration (Arabs and Jews) (1880–1940), and Asian migration (especially Japanese) (1900–1955). The epilogue focuses on the post–World War II period, bringing the story to the present day. All of these chapters examine the evolving patterns of national identity, but Chapter 4 is specifically focused on the creation of Euro-Brazilian identities.

Lesser’s book has much to offer to both specialists and general readers. His overview carries profound insights about the problems of national identity in Brazil and elsewhere. One of Lesser’s greatest contributions is his effective use of comparative methodology. He clearly delineates the similarities and differences between the specific European, Middle Eastern, and Asian groups within Brazil regarding such important matters as intermarriage with Afro-Brazilians, “whiteness,” the relationship with country of origin, et al. His revealing comparisons between Brazil, the United States, and Argentina provide an important international perspective on immigration and the evolution of national identity…

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Immigration, Ethnicity, and National Identity in Brazil, 1808 to the Present

Posted in Books, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery on 2014-12-15 18:32Z by Steven

Immigration, Ethnicity, and National Identity in Brazil, 1808 to the Present

Cambridge University Press
January 2013
219 pages
19 b/w illus. 1 map 19 tables
229 x 153 x 14 mm
Hardback ISBN: 9780521193627
Paperback ISBN: 9780521145350
eBook ISBN: 9781139602723

Jeffrey Lesser, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of History
Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia

Immigration, Ethnicity, and National Identity in Brazil, 1808 to the Present examines the immigration to Brazil of millions of Europeans, Asians, and Middle Easterners beginning in the nineteenth century. Jeffrey Lesser analyzes how these newcomers and their descendents adapted to their new country and how national identity was formed as they became Brazilians along with their children and grandchildren. Lesser argues that immigration cannot be divorced from broader patterns of Brazilian race relations, as most immigrants settled in the decades surrounding the final abolition of slavery in 1888 and their experiences were deeply conditioned by ideas of race and ethnicity formed long before their arrival. This broad exploration of the relationships between immigration, ethnicity, and nation allows for analysis of one of the most vexing areas of Brazilian study: identity.

  • Includes oral histories and primary documents so readers can get a sense of the voices of immigrants and those with whom immigrants interacted
  • Does not treat immigrants only as victims, unlike other immigration studies
  • Places immigrants within a broader context of racial and ethnic relations

Table of Contents

  • List of Figures, Tables, and Documents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1: Creating Brazilians
  • Chapter 2: From Central Europe and Asia: Immigration Schemes, 1822–1870
  • Chapter 3: Mass Migrations, 1880–1920
  • Chapter 4: The Creation of Euro-Brazilian Identities
  • Chapter 5: How Arabs Became Jews, 1880–1940
  • Chapter 6: Asianizing Brazil: New Immigrants and New
  • Identities, 1900–1955
  • Epilogue: The Song Remains the Same
  • Historiographical Essay
  • Index
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Brute Ideology

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Slavery, Social Science, United States on 2014-12-11 15:55Z by Steven

Brute Ideology

Fall 2014

Walter Johnson, Winthrop Professor of History; Professor of African and African American Studies; Director, Charles Warren Center for the Study of American History
Harvard University

Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life by Barbara J. Fields and Karen E. Fields. Verso, 2012, 310 pp.

The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation by David Brion Davis. Knopf, 2014, 448 pp.

The field of U.S. history today is characterized by a mania for management. The “new” history of capitalism has focused its attention on the creation and daily reanimation of the grand abstraction from which it draws its title: the mid-level market makers who take capital and transform it into capitalism. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, increasing numbers of historians have turned their attention to the histories of powerful historical actors we have too long ignored or dismissed as “dead white men” unworthy of the attention of the properly progressive historian: financiers, bankers, and businessmen of all kinds. Despite the obvious importance of the task and the avowedly critical purpose of the turn towards the study of the mechanisms of market practice, however, some of the bolder claims that have been used to mark out the novelty of this “new” history seem unwarranted, perhaps even misguided. Can historians really set aside the study of racial and sexual domination now that they have discovered the economic exploitation underlying all other history? Can they really write a better history of capitalism by simply replacing the history of the marginal with the history of the powerful? Amidst the end-of-historiography enthusiasm for the “new” history of capitalism, two recent books remind us of the enduring importance of some of the questions posed by the old history of capitalism: questions of determination, ideology, and hegemony, and of collective action, resistance, and (even) revolutionary social change.

Bringing together previously published and new essays treating U.S. history from the time of the American Revolution to the eve of the Occupy movement in 2011, Racecraft reminds us that, at the very least, the “new” history of capitalism has some very distinguished antecedents. Taken together, the writing of the historian Barbara J. Fields and the sociologist Karen E. Fields (sisters; hereafter “Fields and Fields”) provides a sustained and brilliant exposition of the history and practice of race-marking in America. If race is “socially constructed,” as virtually every educated person in the United States knows it officially to be, then why do we believe we can determine the race of the person on the other end of the line as soon as we pick up the phone?

As the title’s invocation of witchcraft suggests, the book is framed by the idea that there is something occult about such everyday practices of divination. For the authors, race is a kind of magical thinking, a way of isolating a few of the surface features of near-infinite human diversity and over-generalizing them into an architecture of biological, social, and even metaphysical difference. Race thinking, they suggest, is a sort of transubstantiation that adduces essence out of circumstance, made up of turns of phrase and ways of thinking so familiar and yet so powerful as to persistently remake the material world in their own image.

Fields and Fields illustrate and expose this sort of magic through a close reading of the printed matter of our times: newspaper accounts of proudly segregated high-school proms and white supremacists carrying guns to Obama campaign rallies; peer-reviewed articles published in scholarly journals and the bureaucratic memos that established the “multiracial” category in the U.S. census. They juxtapose the “troglodyte racism” of the crypto-Klan birthers to the breathless intonations of historical transcendence (“the end of racism??!!”) common among twenty-first-century white liberals. The main argument of the book is with the latter’s sometimes unwitting, sometimes self-congratulatory engagement with the dark magic of racial difference itself.

Take the “multiracial” moment—the idea that the bad old days of “black” and “white” may finally be giving way to an embrace of “mixture” and “difference.” But wait: “mixture” of what with what? According to Racecraft, the Census Bureau defines a “multiracial” person as “someone with two monoracial parents.” Through the heart of the celebration of the new multiracialism circulates a notion of blood purity worthy of The Birth of a Nation. For Fields and Fields, any invocation of “race” as an explanatory or even descriptive category is in and of itself racist. The use of “race” to explain anything from ancestry to economic inequality unwittingly reinforces the false belief in deep-rooted biological differences between black and white people. “Ancestry,” according to the authors, should be understood as a way that individuals are linked across generations without being thickened into “race.” Heredity, whether responsible for visible traits like curly hair or hidden ones like the sickle cell, is just that and nothing more: “‘genetic’ is not equivalent to ‘racial.’”

If we had only to worry about a mediascape where relevance is measured by the ability to attach ideas to beginnings and endings (the “post-racial” election of the “first black president”) things would be bad enough. “Racecraft,” however, has infiltrated even the hallowed ground of academia. Precisely and compellingly, Fields and Fields demonstrate that scientists use “racial” causes to explain what are in fact social effects. A recent scientific study of high asthma rates among schoolchildren in the South Bronx, for example, concluded that—in addition to heavy traffic, dense population, poor housing, and lack of preventative health care—the neighborhood was characterized by “a large population of blacks and Hispanics, two groups with very high rates of asthma.”…

Read the entire review of both books here.

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Female Slaves and the Law

Posted in History, Law, Slavery, United States, Videos, Women on 2014-12-08 21:16Z by Steven

Female Slaves and the Law

C-SPAN: Created by Cable
Lectures in History

Martha S. Jones, Arthur F Thurnau Professor, Associate Professor of History and Afroamerican and African Studies
University of Michigan

Professor Martha Jones talked about the mid-19th century court case of Celia, a female slave who killed her master after repeated sexual assaults. Topics included what options Celia may have had, and the involvement of her fellow slaves and her master’s white neighbors in her court case.

View the lecture here (01:21:40). See also, “Celia, A Slave, Trial (1855): An Account” by Douglas O. Linder (2011).

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The Half Has Never Been Told with Edward E. Baptist, Ph.D.

Posted in Audio, Economics, Forthcoming Media, History, Live Events, Slavery, United States on 2014-12-06 00:08Z by Steven

The Half Has Never Been Told with Edward E. Baptist, Ph.D.

Research at the National Archives and Beyond
BlogTalk Radio
Thursday, 2014-12-18 21:00 EST (Friday, 2014-12-19, 02:00Z)

Bernice Bennett, Producer and Host

Historian Edward E. Baptist reveals in The Half Has Never Been Told, the expansion of slavery in the first eight decades after American independence drove the evolution and modernization of the United States. In the span of a single lifetime, the South grew from a narrow coastal strip of worn-out tobacco plantations to a continental cotton empire, and the United States grew into a modern, industrial, and capitalist economy. Until the Civil War, Baptist explains, the most important American economic innovations were ways to make slavery ever more profitable. Through forced migration and torture, slave owners extracted continual increases in efficiency from enslaved African Americans. Thus the United States seized control of the world market for cotton, the key raw material of the Industrial Revolution, and became a wealthy nation with global influence.

Told through intimate slave narratives, plantation records, newspapers, and the words of politicians, entrepreneurs, and escaped slaves, The Half Has Never Been Told offers a radical new interpretation of American history. It forces readers to reckon with the violence at the root of American supremacy, but also with the survival and resistance that brought about slavery’s end—and created a culture that sustains America’s deepest dreams of freedom.

Edward E. Baptist is an Associate Professor in the Department of History and House Professor and Dean at the Carl Becker House at Cornell University.

For more information, click here.

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Where the Negroes Are Masters: An African Port in the Era of the Slave Trade by Randy J. Sparks, and: Another America: The Story of Liberia and the Former Slaves Who Ruled It by James Ciment (review)

Posted in Africa, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Slavery on 2014-12-03 17:37Z by Steven

Where the Negroes Are Masters: An African Port in the Era of the Slave Trade by Randy J. Sparks, and: Another America: The Story of Liberia and the Former Slaves Who Ruled It by James Ciment (review)

Journal of the Early Republic
Volume 34, Number 4, Winter 2014
pages 686-690
DOI: 10.1353/jer.2014.0068

Andrew N. Wegmann
Louisiana State University

Where the Negroes Are Masters: An African Port in the Era of the Slave Trade. By Randy J. Sparks. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014. Pp. 309. Cloth $29.95)

The Atlantic slave trade stands at the center of Atlantic World studies. Indeed, the centuries-long trade in human beings from the coast of Africa to the Americas and Europe has come to define how each society bordering the Atlantic explains its cultural and racial demographics. Tales of families torn apart for the profit of a white man, of countless numbers taken across the Atlantic and forced into the fields of Jamaica, South Carolina, and Virginia, have fascinated and frustrated scholars and readers for decades. But rarely have these stories looked back to their origins, situating Africa at the center of the trade and the Atlantic community that made it possible. In Where the Negroes Are Masters, Randy Sparks does just that.

The strength of Sparks’s work lies in its uncommon approach. By placing the West African town of Annamaboe at the heart of the Atlantic slave-trading world, he shifts the academic focus of the slave trade from American fields and British trading houses to a Gold Coast trading town in which Africans call the shots, make enormous profit, and interact as commercial equals with European slavers. Sparks does not mince words, claiming that “the successful, capable, and wily merchants of Annamaboe were as integral to Atlantic commerce as those of Liverpool, London, Cádiz, Nantes, Charleston, New York, or Kingston” (3). Ruled and ‘‘owned’’ by the Fante people, Annamaboe was a place of commercial as well as cultural exchange, a site where the colonial powers of Europe entered into agreements and treaties with the reportedly ‘‘savage,’’ ‘‘barbarous’’ blacks of Africa. It was a place to which England sent its youngest, brightest captains to serve as governors before they rose in the political ranks to North America and the Caribbean. In return, the leaders (called caboceers) of Annamaboe frequently sent their sons to London and Paris for education, trading experience, and acculturation.

But, as Sparks points out, this was all a game. The caboceers at Annamaboe knew that both England and France wanted the thousands of slaves leaving the coast each year. The young men sent to London and Paris from Annamaboe, like the famous William Ansah Sessarakoo, son of the powerful caboceer John Corantee, imbibed European culture while also acquiring an intimate knowledge of the European side of the trade— profit margins, active political disputes, anything the leaders at Annamaboe could use to outwit and manipulate their European buyers.

Indeed, on a number of occasions the French and English nearly came to blows over the right of deposit at Annamaboe Road, the town’s primary port. In the end, the English muscled the French out of the region, and constructed a fort in town, for which they paid tribute, rent, and customs duties.

The relationship between Africans and Europeans did not stop at the trade itself. English merchants, traders, and governors residing in town often took ‘‘country wives’’—African women, sometimes mixed-race, who provided relief of carnal urges as well as connections in Annamaboe’s merchant elite. Richard Brew, an Irish-born trader who arrived at Annamaboe around 1745, became the wealthiest, most powerful private trader on the Gold Coast due in part to his ‘‘marriage’’ to John Corantee’s daughter. They lived together at Brew’s Annamaboe mansion (called ‘‘Castle Brew’’), and raised three mulatto children, all of whom took their father’s surname and served as interpreters and traders for Annamaboe until the early nineteenth century. As Sparks explains, the mulattoes, of which there were many along the Gold Coast, bridged the cultural and racial gap manifested in their pedigrees. Some served as soldiers for the English aboard slavers and in forts, positions strictly reserved for the mixed-race sons of European officials. Others, like the Brew children, served as interpreters, political representatives, and port traders for the caboceers. Many were Christian. Nearly all spoke both English and Fante, as well as ‘‘creole’’ (which Sparks never fully defines), and dressed in European stylings. They were the products of the cultural and racial exchange that brought Annamaboe, and the rest of the Gold Coast, into the heart of the Atlantic World.

Although central to the commercial and cultural development of the Atlantic World, Sparks’s…

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Barack Obama, Ferguson, and the Evidence of Things Unsaid

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Slavery, Social Science, United States on 2014-11-27 03:07Z by Steven

Barack Obama, Ferguson, and the Evidence of Things Unsaid

The Atlantic

Ta-Nehisi Coates, National Correspondent

Violence works. Nonviolence does too.

In a recent dispatch from Ferguson, Missouri, Jelani Cobb noted that President Obama’s responses to “unpunished racial injustices” constitute “a genre unto themselves.” Monday night, when Barack Obama stood before the nation to interpret the non-indictment of Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown, he offered a particularly tame specimen. The elements of “the genre” were all on display—an unmitigated optimism, an urge for calm, a fantastic faith in American institutions, an even-handedness exercised to a fault. But if all the limbs of the construct were accounted for, the soul of the thing was not.

There was none of the spontaneous annoyance at the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, and little of the sheer pain exhibited in the line, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” The deft hand Obama employed in explaining to Americans why the acquittal of George Zimmerman so rankled had gone arthritic. This was a perfunctory execution of “the genre,” offered with all the energy of a man ticking items off a to-do list.

Barack Obama is an earnest moderate. His instincts seem to lead him to the middle ground. For instance, he genuinely believes that there is more overlap between liberals and conservatives than generally admitted. On Monday he nodded toward the “deep distrust” that divides black and brown people from the police, and then pointed out that this was tragic because these are the communities most in need of “good policing.” Whatever one makes of this pat framing, it is not a cynical centrism—he believes in the old wisdom of traditional America. This is his strength. This is his weakness. But Obama’s moderation is as sincere and real as his blackness, and the latter almost certainly has granted him more knowledge of his country than he generally chooses to share.

In the case of Michael Brown, this is more disappointing than enraging. The genre of Obama race speeches has always been bounded by the job he was hired to do. Specifically, Barack Obama is the president of the United States of America. More specifically, Barack Obama is the president of a congenitally racist country, erected upon the plunder of life, liberty, labor, and land. This plunder has not been exclusive to black people. But black people, the community to which both Michael Brown and Barack Obama belong, have the distinct fortune of having survived in significant numbers…

Read the entire article here.

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Grad student Alex Finley found her roots — and more

Posted in Articles, Campus Life, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2014-11-26 19:54Z by Steven

Grad student Alex Finley found her roots — and more

William & Mary News and Events
The College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia

Jim Ducibella, Communications Specialist

This is part one of a two-story series. Check back Nov. 26 for the second part. – Ed.

As a child, Alex Finley remembers going through three phases of intense interest: One was genealogy. Another was the Civil War. The third was American Girls dolls.

“So I guess I was always destined to be a historian,” she said with a chuckle.

Finley, a Ph.D. candidate in history at William & Mary who is studying the domestic slave trade and the finance and business practices of slave traders in the antebellum period, combined two of those three passions to uncover a little known, controversial community in West Virginia.

It’s a discovery that has drawn the attention of television producers from the PBS program Finding Your Roots and ushered in a fascinating chapter in her life.

She began by researching her mother’s family history while she was in high school in southern Ohio, and continued her research as an undergraduate at Ohio State, completing an honors thesis on that particular branch of the family.

The Male family – or Mayle, as it’s also known – came to the United States from Dover, England, and eventually settled in Hampshire County, located in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle and Potomac Highlands regions.

Wilmore Male and his wife, Mary, had several children, including Wilmore, Jr., who fought in the Revolutionary War and came back to West Virginia to start a farm.

While there, he began a relationship with a slave he owned named Nancy.

“The proof we have of this is an extraordinary emancipation document from 1826,” Finley said. “(Male) emancipates Nancy and says that she is forever set free from this point – on the condition that she remain living with him as his wife.

“That’s extraordinary for the time period, for several reasons: One, he’s coming out publicly and saying this. Two, interracial marriage is illegal at this time and here he is in a courthouse saying he intends to live with this woman. They end up living together, with no evidence they were ever harassed or bothered by anyone for their relationship.”

How could that be? Finley’s research showed that the man at the courthouse who recorded the document – John White — was the son of Male’s captain in the Revolutionary War…

Read the entire article here.

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AN OCTOROON: THE OCTOROON an essay by James Leverett

Posted in Articles, Arts, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2014-11-23 20:38Z by Steven

AN OCTOROON: THE OCTOROON an essay by James Leverett

The Soho Repository
New York, New York

James Leverett, Professor (Adjunct) of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism
Yale School of Drama

There is melodrama in every tragedy, just as there is a child in every adult.”
–Eric Bentley, Life of the Drama

A Suggested Walk

I hope by this point you’ve already purchased your ticket for An Octoroon. I also hope that it is a nice evening when you attend, and that you will want to discuss and extend your experience of the production afterwards… Or you may also just want to sweep it out of you mind…In either case, when the show is over, take a left when you leave Soho Rep., go along Walker Street a half block to the corner, take another left onto Broadway and walk north across Canal, through Soho, across Houston into Noho (cartography gets murky here), and across Bleeker. Slow your pace and go over to the east side of Broadway if you haven’t already. Your aim is to get a better view of what’s on the west side of the street (or used to be). I hope you will look up at the spectacular 19th-century cast-iron architecture all along your tour…

The Octoroon

After Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel of 1852, together with an immediate procession of stage versions), The Octoroon is the most prominent contemporary fiction about American slavery. In many ways, Boucicault’s play fits the pattern of Victorian melodrama. Zoë, the Octoroon, is the suffering heroine, although much more strongly drawn than her Gothic predecessors. Originally played by Agnes Robertson, at the time Boucicault’s wife, she chooses her own destiny, even though hers is the fate of a victim. The unmistakable villain is Jacob M’Closky, undoubtedly modeled after Stowe’s lustful, murderous Simon Legree. Both characters are from the North, both end up in Louisiana, both are in the market for slaves. George Peyton, the romantic lead, is brave and central to the plot but recedes somewhat in the presence of the others.

As with most Victorian melodramas, The Octoroon, has a large supporting cast. Most of them are there, not only to help along the plot, but also to add variety to a popular entertainment. They are part of the newspaper aspect of the genre and create a world containing a range of social classes, ages, occupations, localities and nationalities.

Most pertinent to this play are races, particularly those of African descent, and they are represented with unprecedented specificity. In addition to the octoroon (one eighth black), there are in the cast list a quadroon (one fourth), a yellow (mixed race), and Whanotee, an Indian chief of the “Lepan” tribe (probably a misspelling of the Lipan Apache). Boucicault himself played the chief. His well known mimetic ability surely helped him to negotiate the character who, when not altogether silent, speaks a fictional “mashup” of French, Mexican and what is supposedly his native dialect, which includes “ugh.” Most of the supporting characters also have some comic function, which is fundamental in most melodrama. Scholars consider the genre to exist between tragedy and comedy, but leaning toward the latter, especially because of the almost inevitable happy endings…

Read the entire article here.

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What is Dion Boucicault’s THE OCTOROON?

Posted in Arts, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Videos on 2014-11-23 20:18Z by Steven

What is Dion Boucicault’s THE OCTOROON?

The Soho Repository
New York, New York

James Leverett, Professor (Adjunct) of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism
Yale School of Drama

Professor of Dramatic Criticism James Leverett from The Yale School of Drama joins us in this video to give context and background to Dion Boucicault’s 1859 melodrama The Octoroon. In our next mainstage play, playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins has radically reshaped the original to dizzying meta-theatrical effect.

Boucicault’s play courted immediate controversy when it debuted in the US. The play examines race, slavery, gender, and the 19th century’s perception of these themes; in other words, a prime play for Jacob-Jenkins (author of the blistering Neighbors and current Appropriate at Signature Theatre) to explore.

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