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.
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.
On Sunday, January 27, Readex will host a special breakfast presentation titled “Dramatic Effects: The Impact of Theater on 19th-Century U.S. Culture and Society.” An open discussion will follow the talk by Amy E. Hughes, Associate Professor of Theater History and Criticism at Brooklyn College.
About the Presentation
From Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical, U.S. theater has inspired fervent passion and intense loyalty in those who enjoy and study it. As architecture and activity, edifice and event, refuge and recreation, the theater is deeply beloved.
In this engaging talk, Prof. Amy Hughes—a leading authority on American drama—reveals some of the chaotic complexities of 19th-century theater culture. She brings to life the eclectic amusements staged in playhouses, the diverse work and workers involved, the dynamic camaraderie that sustained theatrical communities, and the lasting influence and impact of its most popular spectacles. To understand 19th-century theater fully, she argues, researchers must read surviving dramas and ephemera against the grain and between the lines.