Performing the Temple of Liberty: Slavery, Theater, and Popular Culture in London and Philadelphia, 1760-1850 (Early America: History, Context, Culture)

9781421413389: Performing the Temple of Liberty: Slavery, Theater, and Popular Culture in London and Philadelphia, 1760-1850 (Early America: History, Context, Culture)

This rewarding, well-researched work fills in many gaps in the scholarly knowledge of Anglo-American theater and its relation to the politics of slavery. It will be appreciated for its extensive research, thematic breadth, and good judgment in several disciplines and subfields. One of the work's most important virtues is its interest in both proslavery and antislavery materials and in understanding their dialectical relationship. Another is its insistence on telling the whole story from the late eighteenth century. Jenna Gibbs excels at bringing out the theatrical dimensions of cultural moments and cultural work not usually considered theater and the politics of slavery dimensions of work too often seen as being just about race.

(David Waldstreicher, author of Runaway America and Slavery's Constitution)

In this ambitious transatlantic study, Jenna Gibbs argues convincingly that playwrights, producers, and performers in London and Philadelphia did not merely transmit a range of positions on slavery but played an active role in shaping debates on this issue. Performing the Temple of Liberty is above all a deeply humane study, both in the vividness with which it reconstructs these theatrical conversations and also in its impassioned commitment to the issues at stake.

(Richard Godbeer, University of Miami)

Over the past two decades social and theatre historians have begun retelling the history of American performance culture as a critical element of the country's political evolution. Only recently, however, have they begun interrogating slavery's influence on the popular theatre... Jenna M. Gibbs, in her excellent Performing the Temple of Liberty: Slavery, Theater, and Popular Culture in London and Philadelphia, 1760–1850, adds a major chapter to this history. By linking the two largest cities of the British Atlantic together as part of a theatrical network, Gibbs illustrates how stage performances both reflected and affected the transatlantic debate over abolition.

(Jason Shaffer Civil War Book Review)

Vom Verlag:

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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