Amy E. Hughes is Associate Professor of Theater History and Criticism at Brooklyn College (CUNY). In this January 2019 interview, she discusses how the study of theater deepens our understanding of history and society; what happens in the classroom when students use these kinds of primary sources; and what the digitization of collections like Nineteenth-Century America Drama has meant to her.
Prof. Hughes’ first book, Spectacles of Reform: Theater and Activism in Nineteenth-Century America, received the 2013 Barnard Hewitt Award from the American Society for Theatre Research. Her latest book is A Player and a Gentleman: The Diary of Harry Watkins, Nineteenth-Century U.S. American Actor (2018), a critical and digital edition of the pre-Civil War diary of actor-playwright Harry Watkins, coedited with Naomi J. Stubbs.
Laura Laffrado, Professor of English, Western Washington University
In recent years, my scholarly efforts have been devoted to the recovery of Ella Rhoads Higginson (1862?-1940), the first prominent literary author from the U.S. Pacific Northwest and the first Poet Laureate of Washington State. Internationally celebrated for her writing, Higginson put the Pacific Northwest on the literary map. People across the nation and around the world were first introduced to the Pacific Northwest and the people who lived there when they read Higginson’s award-winning… > Full Story
There are over 200 scripts whose authorship is credited to Anonymous in Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Popular Culture and Entertainment, 1820-1900. An examination of these titles suggests several categories into which many of these can be sorted. Thirty of these are “Ethiopian” or other less cautious euphemisms. Others are meant for school exercises or home entertainment, while still others are the scripts of unique college or club, church, and charity productions. Some of the dramas seem to have been commissioned for specific celebrations, usually political or historical. There are also scripts that deal with sensitive or social issues that were controversial in their time. These are among the most interesting plays attributed to Anonymous.
The Lost Spade; or, The Grave Digger’s Revenge (1864)
This political drama was published when the American Civil War still raged. The title page offers a further subtitle: “A great political, martial, serio-comic legendary, romantic and farcial [sic] drama.” It also notes that it was “Written by the Happy Democratic Family, expressly for the Peace Democracy.” The Peace Democracy refers to the Copperheads who were also called Peace Democrats. These Democrats were opposed to the war and favored appeasing the Confederacy. In 1864 prominent Copperheads were put on trial for treason.
Because this script focuses on this dissident bloc of northern Democrats, some of whom were prone to violence, the author may well have had sufficient reason to write anonymously. He provides staging directions and a cast list.
The March release of The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes speeches delivered in a Massachusetts church exalting the nation, in the Tennessee House of Representatives describing a conspiracy that divided the country, and in the U.S. Senate asking a fundamental question of the country’s citizenry.
De Profundis Clamavi: The Cause, the Crime, and the Cure of our National Suicide (1861)
By Daniel Steele
On September 26, 1861, five months after the Civil War began, Pastor Daniel Steele (1824-1914) gave a sermon celebrating nationalism.
Nationality magnifies and exalts the insignificant individual, crowns him with dignity and honor, throws an arm of protecting power about him, and holds a broad shield over his defenseless head.
Steele then presents the first of several comparisons he uses to illustrate American superiority.
The February release of Territorial Papers of the United States, 1765-1953, includes a Civil War-era warning of an impending invasion from Texas, a petition to allow black suffrage under the Colorado constitution, and reports of murder and robbery on the Mexican border.
Address of Legislature to Citizens, on Invasion from Texas, January 29, 1862
In 1862 Confederate General Henry Hopkins Sibley led a brigade of volunteer cavalry to invade the Territory of New Mexico. By advancing north along the Rio Grande from Fort Bliss, he hoped to eventually seize the gold and silver mines in Colorado. In the days leading up to the attack, the Territorial Legislature of New Mexico issued an address to the citizenry, warning them of the coming incursion and alerting them to the dangers they faced.
The February release of The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes three congressional speeches from 1862 in support of legislation that would allow the confiscation of rebel property and the emancipation of their slaves.
The Constitutionality and Expediency of Confiscation Vindicated
Speech of Hon. Lyman Trumbull of Illinois
Lyman Trumbull (1813-1896) served as the Illinois Secretary of State, sat on the bench of the Illinois Supreme Court, was elected to the U.S. Senate, and co-wrote the Thirteenth Amendment.
On April 7, 1862, Trumbull offered two minor amendments to a “bill to confiscate the property and free the slaves of rebels” before directing his attention to the opposition’s attacks on the bill.
This unique family of digital resources includes ten individually available modules, each providing global perspectives on a critical topic in 20th-century world history. Collected across the globe between 1941 and 1996, the translated primary source documents in these databases offer fresh opportunities for deeper understanding of today’s headlines.
Learn how these resources can benefit researchers at all levels:
As an example of the praise received by these ten databases, the February 2019 Library Journal says of one:
“Propaganda and the Chinese Press presents a trove of articles published in communist newspapers….The archive spans the rise of Mao Zedong to the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests and offers Chinese perspectives on the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cultural Revolution the collapse of the Soviet Union, and more, as well as insights on political leaders worldwide….this resource displays excellent article scans and is an overall helpful resource for anyone interested in Asian studies, media studies, Cold War and 20th-century history, political science, communications, and propaganda.”
Think about this word: melodrama. What image comes to mind?
Brooklyn College theater historian Amy E. Hughes began her presentation at the 2019 American Library Association Midwinter Meeting with that short thought experiment, asking attendees to picture melodrama.
Did you “see” what they did?
Many in the audience had envisioned something akin to the “Railroad Rescue,” a scene that originated in Augustin Daily’s Under the Gaslight, a popular play which premiered in New York City in 1867. But as Hughes would reveal, the “Railroad Sensation”—as it was called then—has a “surprisingly complicated and convoluted history.” View the full presentation.
Throughout her talk, titled “Dramatic Effects: The Impact of Theater on 19th-Century U.S. Culture and Society,” Prof. Hughes provided a fascinating overview of the 19th-century theater industry. She shared some of the discoveries her recent research has revealed, and she unpacked the little-known history of that “Railroad Rescue,” pointing out its significant political and social factors.
The January release of Territorial Papers of the Unites States, 1765-1953, includes Congressional Legislative Reports on the relocation of American Indian tribes, including the Winnebago, now recognized as the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin. Also available this month are Territorial Legislative Reports from Alaska. Among the many topics covered are the establishment of Alaska's Pioneer Home system, the fear of sedition during World War I, and much more.
28th Congress 1st Session; Bills, Resolutions, Reports, and Related Documents, December 18, 1843-June 11, 1844
Celebrate centuries of Black History this February—and all year long—with these eight digital resources for African American studies. Contribute to your own institution’s Black History observances by providing or promoting access to these acclaimed collections of primary sources available from Readex.
Providing the raw material of African-American history across nearly 20 crucial years, this database brings together many of the most significant printed materials by and about African Americans. Among them are overlooked works of fiction and poetry.
This collection captures voices of, by and about African Americans during a pivotal period of segregation and disenfranchisement, enabling students and scholars to easily uncover patterns of thought and compare points of view.