Public Program- Renée Sentilles

Lectures and Performances
Tuesday, December 2, 2003 - 7:30pm

When Hype Becomes History: Adah Isaacs Menken and the Virtue of an Ambiguous Past
by Renée Sentilles

History is a social science that demands evidence for its claims, but what happens when the evidence itself is unstable? Adah Isaacs Menken was a Civil War era celebrity who relied on rumor and hearsay to keep her popularity alive. Indeed, one can say that hearsay from the nineteenth-century has led to a resurgence of interest in her in the twenty-first. If one looks Adah Isaacs Menken up on the Internet, she will appear as an African-American poet, a Jewish poet, a lesbian cross-dresser, and a salacious nineteenth- century sex symbol, but only one of those images was familiar to Menken's own public. Can rumor be historicized? Does examining hearsay undermine what history purports to do, or does it allow us to address topics otherwise left in the margins? This program will address these questions while examining the life of one of the most fascinating people in American history.

Renée Sentilles is assistant professor of history and director of American studies at Case Western Reserve University. She was a visiting assistant professor of history at Clark University during the 1999-2000 academic year. Sentilles was the Mellon Post-Dissertation Fellow at AAS in 1988-99, during which time she revised her dissertation into the book Performing Menken: Adah Isaacs Menken and the Birth of American Celebrity, which was published by Cambridge University Press in association with AAS in April 2003.

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