CFP: The Fourth James L. and Shirley A. Draper Graduate Student Conference in Early American Studies

CFP: The Fourth James L. and Shirley A. Draper Graduate Student Conference in Early American Studies

Popular Culture in Early America
The Fourth James L. and Shirley A. Draper Graduate Student Conference
in Early American Studies

Popular culture in early America embraced a host of activities,
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.

Submission email:

Please download the printable electronic flier from

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