Showing Minstrelsy: A Digital Enactment

  For millions of Americans between the 1840s and the early 20th century, blackface minstrelsy was as familiar as music videos are to us. 100 years from now students of American culture will still be able to access music videos, but there are no recordings of 19th century minstrelsy. Elsewhere in the archive you can hear modern performances of minstrel songs, and look at sheet music covers and other illustrations to see the kinds of images minstrelsy put into the culture. But as a performing art, minstrelsy itself involved both images and sounds.
  The goal, then, of the two minute-long digital movies accessible from this page is to provide some proximation of minstrelsy as Stowe's contemporaries experienced it. Each combines an excerpt from an early popular minstrel song with a set of pictures taken from contemporaneous print sources. The source of the images are (1) sheet music covers in the Harvard Theatre Collection, The Houghton Library, and the Levy Sheet Music Collection, Johns Hopkins University, and (2) two comic almanacs in the collection of The Library Company of Philadelphia (you can see the originals HERE).
  Each film is available in two versions: a 320x240 medium quality one, and a 480x360 high quality one. To play them, you'll need the very most recent version of the QuickTime player (there's a link to the Apple site, where you can download this for free, at the bottom of this page). And you need to know ahead of time that the images were chosen because they are representative of the way minstrelsy looked, and so are viciously racist. Unfortunately, these kinds of images were re-inscribed on white America's retinas by literally countless minstrel performances and publications, and so we need to look at them in our time in order to appreciate the culture for which Stowe's novel and, for example, its various dramatic adaptations were written and staged. (You can decide for yourself how far American culture has or hasn't gotten beyond this representation of "blackness" by comparing these movies to 21st century hip hop videos.)
  This first movie attempts to maintain a bit of scholarly decorum even as it attempts to connect the visual imagery of minstrelsy with a frequently-performed minstrel song -- "Stop Dat Knocking," written by A. F. Winnemore and first published in 1847; it is performed here by Brian Mark, David Van Veersblick and Roger Smith on The Early Minstrel Show (©New World Records, 1985).

  This minute-long clip attempts to express a sense of the rowdy energy that was one source of minstrelsy's extraordinary popularity with 19th century audiences. The musical excerpt is from "Old Dan Tucker," written by Dan Emmet and first published in 1843; it is performed here by Jack Nuckols, Mark Meadows and Stephanie Meadows (©Japher's "Original" SANDY RIVER MINSTRELS, 1998).


Designed by Chris Jessee, Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, UVA
Additional programming by Michael Tuite, Digital Media Lab, UVA

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