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Popular Culture in Early America

The Fourth James L. and Shirley A. Draper Graduate Student Conference on Early American Studies at the University of Connecticut and the American Antiquarian Society
March 24-26, 2011

 

Call for Papers

Popular culture in early America embraced a host of activities and purposes, communities, practices, and sites. From London to Philadelphia, Charleston to Kingston, Quebec to Lima, colonial subjects and then citizens of the United States and other new republics in the Americas frequented taverns and country dances, cock fights and boxing matches, where they relaxed, competed, bonded, shared news, forged political alliances, and defined the meanings and limits of sociability. Couples strolled through pleasure gardens in eighteenth-century cities and privileged women staked claims to gentility with Wedgwood china, while men of all classes patronized brothels and then repented after listening to fiery revival sermons. Museums and theaters advertised new forms of instruction and amusement in the public arena. The respectable home, in turn, took on a new role as an entertainment center, where young ladies performed on the piano and children moved pawns on board games. Meanwhile, in realms of their own, enslaved people played homemade instruments adapting African forms and rhythms to New World surroundings, only to witness their musical culture admired, mocked, and expropriated in the commercialized form of blackface minstrelsy. Popular culture expressed the vitality of the diverse worlds that met and collided in early America and enacted their tensions and conflicts as well.

Plebeian and respectable, folk and commercial, popular and elite: "popular culture" goes by many names in early American scholarship and takes in a broad and perhaps incompatible set of activities. The Draper Graduate Student Conference in Early American Studies seeks to explore this wide arena and assay the subjects, issues, contributions, and theoretical debates in recent work on popular culture in early America and the broader Atlantic world from the sixteenth century down to the middle decades of the nineteenth century. We invite papers that grapple with the very definition and contours of the topic. What exactly do we mean by popular culture? Who created popular culture, from what sources and traditions, and across what boundaries of ethnicity and race, religion, gender, and class? Was popular culture defined against "elite culture"? Or did the several ranks and orders of early American societies join together in everyday activities and social rituals that helped to constitute a common culture? Did popular culture give play to gender stereotypes and enforce racial distinctions, or did it offer space for challenges to such hierarchies? Were particular areas of social life . religion, for example, or recreation . especially receptive to popular participation and influence? How do we understand the rise of new culture industries in the middle of the nineteenth century? Did commercial entertainments put popular culture in the hands of capitalist entrepreneurs and the interests they served? Did the nineteenth-century middle class take shape by crusading against popular culture?

Such are a few of the questions we invite graduate students to explore in a conference to be held in Storrs, Connecticut, and Worcester, Massachusetts from March 24 to 26, 2011 under the joint sponsorship of the University of Connecticut and the American Antiquarian Society. Paper proposals should consist of a 500-word abstract and a C.V. of no more than 2 pages. The deadline for submissions is December 15, 2010. We welcome submissions from graduate students within and outside the discipline of history.

Draper Conference

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Submission Guidelines:
Paper proposals should consist of a 500-word abstract and a C.V. of no more than 2 pages. The deadline for submissions is December 15, 2010. We welcome submissions from graduate students within and outside the discipline of history.

Please send proposals or comments to:
draperconference[at]uconn.edu

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