Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Popular Culture and Entertainment, 1820-1900
A comprehensive digital record of the American stage spanning 80 years

Quick Facts

  • Contains virtually every play published during most of the 19th century — more than 4,700 in total
  • Fills a major gap in institutional collections, enabling exciting new discoveries on U.S. culture across all classes of society
  • Based on authoritative bibliographies and collected from dozens of institutions over nearly four decades

Overview

The nineteenth century witnessed unprecedented growth and sweeping changes in the dramatic arts with the number of theaters in the United States growing a hundredfold. Music hall and variety theater came to rival the “legitimate” theater in popularity. Romance gave way to realism, the musical stage proliferated, and the stage became a platform for social and political commentary. As a result, drama became the most popular form of entertainment in America. It was popular across all classes of society and took myriad forms: historical plays, melodramas, political satires, black minstrel shows, comic operas, musical extravaganzas, parlor entertainments, adaptations of novels and many others. All of these can be found in Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Popular Culture and Entertainment, 1820-1900.

A digital museum of 19th-century American culture
This unique and authoritative collection of America’s most popular entertainment form opens a door on U.S. culture that has been closed until now due to the challenge of access. The wide-ranging materials in Nineteenth-Century American Drama will shed light on areas of study generally supported to this point only by imprints and newspapers: daily life in the United States; politics, both local and national; culture in all of its forms; and the shifting and evolving tastes of Americans from across the country. Subjects covered by these works include women’s movements, temperance, street life, westward expansion, slavery and abolition, immigration, wars and countless others.

Also included here are hundreds of prompt books and manuscripts—annotated copies that help reveal the changing intentions of authors and the artistic views of directors. Together, these unique materials written by both the famous and the obscure provide students and scholars with rich new opportunities to study the dramatic arts and the American past from diverse perspectives.

A treasure trove of previously unavailable plays
Nineteenth-Century American Drama represents a goldmine for Drama and Theater programs around the world. Broad geographic coverage—the stages of New York, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, for example—offers opportunities for many layers of analysis. Critical multi-disciplinary support is provided not only for American history and literature but also for economics, political science, religious studies, ethnic studies and sociology. In addition, a helpful “Suggested Searches” feature makes it easy for users to pinpoint the exact plays of interest—by type, subject matter, setting, character ethnicity and others.

Filling a major gap in institution collections
Allowing researchers of all kinds greater insight into this increasingly studied time period, Nineteenth-Century America Drama is an essential complement to Early American Imprints, 1690-1820; American Pamphlets, 1820-1922; American Broadsides and Ephemera, 1749-1900 and other collections in the fully integrated family of America’s Historical Imprints. Students and scholars using Early American Newspapers, 1690-1922, will access both newspapers and plays with Readex AllSearch—a streamlined platform for efficiently searching across all Readex collections.

Accolades

“As a database, Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Popular Culture and Entertainment, 1820-1900, has the potential to effect a sea-change in how scholars and teachers approach pre-twentieth century American literature and theater history. In literary history, critics have long dismissed the period before the early twentieth century emergence of figures like Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, and Susan Glaspell. Deeming it as too commercial, scholars have largely ignored the nineteenth-century popular culture, leading to a distinctive dearth in scholarly and critical attention to the plays. While recent attention (in both scholarship and digital collections) has been given to popular literature in the form of dime novels, sensationalistic pamphlets, and novels, there has been scant resources for research into popular theatrical entertainment of a period. As a result, the plays that entertained, inspired, and challenged audiences and critics have largely languished in archives and microfilm collections.

“By making so many plays that have largely been forgotten available, Nineteenth-Century American Drama can bring back a vital part of U.S. cultural history. Its tragedies, poetic dramas, comedies, farces, sketches, and burlesques provide a rare window into nineteenth-century U.S. culture. Many of these works, such as Louisa Medina’s Last Days of Pompeii, were wildly successful at the time. Others formed parts of nineteenth-century social and political movements like abolitionism, temperance, and suffrage, making these plays key to understanding U.S. literary, political, and social history. This new database will streamline the research process for any project looking at these plays.”
— Robert Davis, Adjunct Assistant Professor, English Department, John Jay College (CUNY)

For more information, contact a Readex representative by calling 800.762.8182 or by using our easy contact form.

Back to top